An inexpensive teleprompter for your classroom

The free, 2015 K12 Online Conference began earlier this week with a keynote from Alan Levine (aka cogdog) entitled “Ordinary/Amazing Stories of Connection”. Needless-to-say Alan’s keynote was the catalyst that helped me move further along my learning journey.

k12-online-badgeAbout a month ago, my good friend Andy McKiel, stated that he had just completed a short 2 minute video to describe the connections that he had made while following his passion for creating unique wooden pens. His video was entitled “Manzanita & Amazing Connections” and was sent to Alan Levine for possible use in Alan’s up-coming K12 Online Conference keynote. Andy suggested that I might like to create a video describing online connections that I had made and share my 2-3 minute video with Alan Levine.

Andy sparked in me a “connecting idea” that I had experienced in the Spring of 2012. At that time, I was actively engaged in a free, online digital storytelling DS106 course, in which Alan Levine was one of my instructors. I began by viewing Andy’s video and was envious of Andy’s succinct and articulate way he provided the narration to his very professional video. Unfortunately, as my readers know, I have difficulty expressing myself in a concise manner. My story had so many important elements, that I was afraid that I would miss a key ingredient, if I just talked “off the cuff”. Rather, I knew that I could not tell my story well without having a script to follow. So, I began brain-storming and drafting a script in Word about the serendipitous connections that I made during my DS106 experience.

To create my video, I had most of the hardware components that I needed. I had an iPhone to capture my video and a tripod on which to support this device. What I lacked was a teleprompter or a “scrolling cue display” to help me tell my story of connection.

Shareski i-Prompt-Pro-300x181It’s funny that my teleprompter need to share a video for the use in the 2015 K12 Online Conference was coming full circle. My first exposure to the effectiveness of using a teleprompter in education was through a 2010 K12 Online Conference video keynote by Dean Shareski. I admit that I was unaware that Dean used a teleprompter when he created his powerful “Sharing: The Moral Imperative” keynote. However, Dean also created a very important “behind the scenes” video, entitled “The Making of a Keynote”, which gave the viewer rare insight into the steps, including, the technology he used in creating his keynote.  It is from this video that I captured the above iPad teleprompter image that Dean utilized.

So I began searching online for Do It Yourself (DIY) teleprompters. There were, indeed, a host of teleprompter applications for the iPad and iPhone devices.  In addition, there were a number of rather unique DIY YouTube videos that described how one might construct a teleprompter inexpensively. Some of the sources that I found included:

At first glance one might think that the key components revolved around the use of an iPad together with an appropriate teleprompter application which would automatically scroll one’s script at a predetermined rate. I do have access to an iPad but I was somewhat apprehensive to use teleprompter software, on a rather lengthy script, where I had to give up control. My concern stemmed from the possibility that my rate of speaking, together with my gestures and reflective pauses, might cause me to get “out of sync”, with the teleprompter display, and I would be forced to start “winging it”. I did not want to give up the control of the text scrolling speed on my teleprompter.

wireless-mouseThankfully, I came across a YouTube video entitled “How to Use Your Laptop as a Teleprompter”. This video suggested that the key to creating a “controllable” teleprompter depends on the use of  a wireless mouse (similar to the one shown at right) together with a laptop. Surprisingly, the mouse can be quite some distance away from the laptop and does not have to be used on a flat surface. I fact, your students may choose to hold the mouse (outside the video frame) at their side, and control their script display by stroking the mouse wheel.

Here’s my K12 Online Conference YouTube video entitled “Amazing CONnections” in which I incorporate the above ideas to use my laptop and wireless mouse to produce a controllable teleprompter:

YouTube video:

Connection Reflection – What would I do differently?
I was impressed with how well I could control the scroll rate of my laptop teleprompter using my wireless mouse. Although I did my best to bring both my hands up into the video frame from time to time, informed readers will perhaps notice that it was my right hand that moved the mouse scroll wheel.

For my next use of this teleprompter technique, I’ll move my iPhone camera tripod further away from me. In hindsight, I believe that my eyes tended to focus more on the lower teleprompter rather than looking directly at the iPhone video camera. Looking critically at my video, it is obvious that I am reading a script as opposed to telling a story in a more natural manner by focusing on the camera. In the “behind the scene” image below, you will note that my iPhone camera is about 1-1.5 meters or 3-4 feet away from my face. As the distance between the camera and subject is increased, the angle that the person’s eyes must drop from looking directly at the camera to peeking at the lower laptop screen decreases. The smaller the “drop angle”, the more the viewer thinks the subject is talking directly to the audience, and any hint of a teleprompter disappears.

teleprompter-setup-600x450True, I placed my iPhone tripod extremely close so that my upper-body filled the frame.  However, if I used a different video camera, I may have been able to move the camera further away to reduce the “drop angle” and still zoom in to fill the frame. Admittedly, this was one of my first iPhone-captured videos, and I have much to learn. In fact, if readers wish to add comments or suggestions below, as to how to improve this video, they would be most welcomed.

However, I was very pleased with the way in which I had control over the speed of my script display. You’ll note that my right hand controls the scroll wheel on the wireless mouse and I was able to set it down on the edge of the coffee table whenever I brought my right hand up into the video frame.

Unfortunately, when I shot my “Amazing CONnections” video, I was working by myself. I now realize how much better it is to have a friend or colleague work with you to optimize  the camera and teleprompter positions. In addition, I’ll go back to review and implement the tips that were shared in  “How to Use Your Laptop as a Teleprompter”.

I often say, that “Any day, that you learn something new … is a good day!” Undoubtedly the day I used my laptop as a teleprompter and shared my amazing story of connections with Alan Levine was, indeed, a very good day.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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How will your students pay tribute to you?

With a new school year just beginning, I thought I should ask teachers this question.

“At the end of this school year, how will your students pay tribute to their experiences in your classroom?”

I recently had an opportunity to be creative and at the same time pay tribute to one of my former teachers. This engaging learning activity caused me to question what motivated me to spend several hours creating a video that only a limited number of individuals could fully appreciate.

Teacher & students-400x267As many of my readers know, in the Spring of 2012, I was fortunate to enroll in a free, online Digital Storytelling DS106 course offered through Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The teachers of this online course had a profound impact on my learning and my participation within a community of learners.

Three and a half years later, my video tribute creation all started with the following innocent-looking tweet:

Jim Groom -TweetMy first introduction to “The Daily Create” (TDC) occurred when I signed up for this amazing open, online Digital Storytelling course, affectionately known as DS106. Jim Groom and Alan Levine teamed up as instructors to engage students, who wanted credit, at the University of Mary Washington. However, people like me signed up because it was authentic learning that was provided free of charge – all I needed was a  computer, Internet connection, and a blog where I could reflect and document my learning. The Daily Creates were regular creative challenges in the areas of photography, drawing, audio, video and writing that were not supposed to take more than 15 – 20 minutes to complete.

Earlier this month, a (new) Daily Create, was established where anyone can receive these challenges by email and/or Twitter feed. Although I am not officially enrolled in the DS106 course, I still view each Daily Create and, from time to time, follow through and complete a challenge that I find intriguing. I then share my creation with the DS106 community of learners by tagging it as DS106 in a blog post or using Twitter hashtags #ds106,  #dailycreate, #tdc, and/or #ds106dc.

Obviously the above tweet struck a chord. Although the hashtags (#) reduced the available message space, I did assume it was “Jim” Groom who was leaving on a trip. I clicked on the the abbreviated link ( at the bottom of the tweet. I was transferred to the 1349th Daily Create which displayed a 15 minute, YouTube video in which Jim Henson described how to make a muppet and I was challenged as follows:

Jim Groom is moving to Italy! It would not be DS106 if there weren’t a twist to this prompt. Wish Jim Groom bon voyage with a home made puppet. Make a short video. Jim Henson teaches you how to make your puppet in the video above – the rest is up to you and your creativity. Bon voyage Jim Groom!

I must admit that I was so eager to get started creating a video tribute for Jim Groom that I only watched the Jim Henson YouTube resource for the first three minutes. Rather than learn how to make a variety of puppets, I started concentrating on the song lyrics that I might use to convey the excitement and authentic learning that took place when I enrolled in Jim’s DS106 online course.

First, I had to find a tune that I knew. Although most of my DS106 colleagues were much younger than me, and had probably never heard of the Everly Brothers, I thought that “Bye Bye Love”, released in 1958, might be a good base on which to build.

Whenever I compose poems or song lyrics, I begin by brain-storming and writing down words that are relevant. Next I match up these words with others that rhyme, by using a favourite web tool called RhymeZone. Using this process, I slowly created the lyrics to fit into the melody.

I then searched for an old sock, a tennis ball, some “jiggle eyes”, glue, and began creating the very first puppet that Jim Henson described in his YouTube video.  I then found a blanket I could use for a back drop, printed some background DS106 images, and set up my smartphone on a tripod to capture the following video tribute to Jim Groom:

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Although this activity was promoted as a Daily Create, my endeavour took closer to 15 hours rather than the suggested 15 minutes. Do I regret this investment of time? Not at all because I learned a great deal.

Reflection: What did I learn as a student?

  • Glue-on “jiggle eyes” and noses do not stick well to a sock-covered tennis ball
    Perhaps you noticed that the puppet’s right eye came off at about the 2:10 mark of the video. I thought that I could rationalize this “wardrobe malfunction” by explaining that the puppet was so choked up by Jim’s leaving, that the flowing tears washed away the “jiggle eye”. However, I decided not to record another take but rather to use this “eye drop” incident as an important “teachable moment”. Sometimes the experiments that don’t work as planned, teach more that the successful ones.
  • “Mute” puppets do not engage the audience as well as “mouth moving” ones
    My puppet design lacked a movable mouth so its’ movements were limited to hand-clapping and swaying to the music. I believe that an important attribute of Jim Henson’s Muppets was that they all seemed to have big mouths that could be manipulated to match the words or lyrics.
  • Learn from other students
    As I was writing my song and assembling my puppet, there were other DS106 participants that took up this challenge. Whenever they finished their videos, they would tweet their accomplishments using The Daily Create hashtag #tdc1349. I learned so much from the amazing “So Long Jim Groom tdc1349” video created by Rochelle Lockridge. First of all, I thought her choice of Carol Burnett’s “I’m so glad we had this time together” was the perfect song to pay tribute to Jim Groom’s influence on the DS106 course and its participants. Not only did Rochelle compile a series of animated GIFs, featuring Jim Groom, she blended these into a video with a song-singing puppet that stole the show. After being mesmerized by Rochelle’s puppet, I knew that my next puppet creation had to have a big mouth that I could manipulate.
  • Read all the resource material before beginning an activity
    Envious of Rochelle’s dynamic puppet, who seemed to be able to lip-sync Carol Burnett’s song so well, I decided to watch the remaining portion of the all-important video resource provided at the start of this challenge. True, I had watched the first three minutes of the YouTube video “Jim Henson on Making Muppets” and created the first puppet that he demonstrated that used a tennis ball for its head. Imagine my surprise that if I had watched the video to about the 11:52 mark, I would have learned how to make Rochelle’s amazing “talking” puppet from an envelope. Furthermore, the video would have demonstrated a number of different puppets that tended to be more life-like than my somewhat-static puppet.

Reflection: What did I learn as a teacher?

However, as an educator, I was still intrigued with what was so special about the DS106 experience, that a number of Jim Groom’s former students would invest time to create a unique video tribute. I trust some of the following ideas may be fostered within your classroom this year:

  • Challenge students prior to the start of the class
    During my 40 years as a teacher and Educational Technology Consultant, I have been involved numerous times in taking and giving workshops. DS106 was the first learning environment in which I was actively engaged in creative challenges, more than one month in advance of the official start of the 15 week course. Jim Groom and Alan Levine challenged each student “to make art”. Furthermore, we were immersed in creating animated GIFs and were given much latitude in choosing our initial target image. Rather than follow the somewhat traditional classroom approach, where all students start with the same image and work through the same step-by-step procedure, our “choose your own adventure” approach provided different intriguing creations and fostered extensive sharing and learning from classmates.
    All parents know that near the end of summer holidays, kids become bored and look for things to do. Imagine if teachers, near the middle of August, published on school web sites, engaging subject-specific activities to challenge potential students.
    I’m sure all teachers could think of engaging tasks, related to their grade or subject matter, that might spark the interest and curiosity of new students starting in the Fall. For example, primary children might explore new coding literacy with ScratchJr. Middle years students might be challenged to create their own interactive non-linear stories using Twine. With the recent emphasis on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to school, perhaps one might challenge senior years’ students to provide an overview of what they like about their particular device and one tip on how they use it in the classroom. Invite such students to share their knowledge with their classmates once school starts. These individuals can become the local experts to help relieve the stress on teachers, who feel that they must master the intricacies of different technological devices to support learning in their class.
    Certainly not all students entering your class in the Fall will necessarily complete such an activity, but it might be interesting to see what percentage of your class attempts the challenge.
  • Support without spoon-feeding fosters authentic learning
    When I first enrolled in DS106, I was expecting to receive handouts on things like: “How to Create an Animated GIF”, “How to Swap Faces in Photoshop 7”, “Learn to Use GIMP in One Hour”, “Creating Your First  Video with Premiere Elements 9” or “How to Create Your Own Radio Show”. I was sadly disappointed when none were provided. When I emailed Jim Groom asking how I could download “my perceived” DS106 support material, he advised me that it didn’t exist. Jim told me that it would be impossible for their staff to continually upgrade resources every time Photoshop, or other software applications, upgraded from one version to the next. He suggested that I just “Google” for the specific tutorial that I required or request help from others DS106 classmates. For one who had, for years, created and shared detailed, step-by-step handouts for all my computer-related workshops, this “tough love” approach was a true eye-opener for me. However, my spoon-feeding expectations gave way to authentic learning as I searched for tutorials and resources in a “just-in-time” format. I encourage teachers to spend less time preparing hand-outs and challenge your students to find the information they need online or collaborate with classmates. Not only will you save yourself a great deal of time and effort, you will be truly helping your students engage in authentic, practical learning as needed in the 21st century.
  • Set your expectations high
    Students who attended DS106 classes with Jim Groom at the University of Mary Washington all stated that one had to do an inordinate amount of work to be successful in this course. However, they all admitted at the end of the course, that it was the best course in which they had ever participated. As an educator, if you set your sights too low, the best you can expect is mediocrity. When you expect more from your students, they will often surprise you with their creativity and effort.
  • Be willing to say “I don’t know” and ask for help
    From his home in Virginia, Jim Groom admitted online that he had no idea about how to set up an online radio station. Within days, a solution came in from a person in British Columbia. If today’s teachers admit to their students when they don’t know the answer or how to solve a problem, it will reduce the stress on such teachers and, more importantly, will empower their students to help.
  • Provide opportunities for constructive feedback
    Traditionally the vast majority of student feedback comes exclusively from the teacher. Although we all received feedback from our instructors, Jim Groom and Alan Levine, we also gained valuable constructive criticism from our DS106 classmates. If teachers encouraged feedback from classmates and/or online viewers, they might be surprised to observe that a wider authentic audience can be more motivating to students than the more traditional teacher-student review.
  • Authentic feedback is the key
    As one who received regular blog comments from both Jim Groom and Alan Levine, I can attest that such communication was special and almost addictive. Many educators know of stories where a particular student was engaged in writing a blog about his or her passion. Whether the student wrote about a rock star or a professional athlete, her/his writing style improved dramatically when the celebrity wrote back. Teachers today might encourage adults to provide online feedback to students’ work to motivate them to improve.
  • Encourage students to work in teams
    In my latter years as a Technology Education Consultant, I was asked to step out of my comfort zone and team up with a Language Arts Consultant to organize and conduct workshops on digital storytelling and movie making. I admit that I was somewhat anxious to work closely with another educator but I learned so much in the process. I may have been knowledgeable about the technology and software. However, my colleague was an expert on telling remarkable stories and our partnership provided an extremely engaging learning opportunity for both the students and teachers who were part of our endeavour. In DS106, Jim Groom and Alan Levine recommended that teams of students work together to assemble all the necessary components of a radio show.
    Likewise teachers today should create learning opportunities where students must work in a team environment. Our students will be living and working in an electronic world where technology is shrinking the globe.
  • Foster a supportive learning community
    Everyone in DS106 shared their creations in reflective blog posts. All DS106 students were encouraged to visit other classmates’ blogs and constructively comment on their recent endeavours. My favourite DS106 manta was “Remember your ABCs – Always Be Creating and Always Be Commenting”. Jim Groom and Alan Levine, as our instructors, regularly shared their creations. More importantly, they commented faithfully on all DS106 students’ blog posts, regardless of whether you were enrolled as a paying student at the University of Mary Washington or an on-line “free-loader” like me. These online comments, from either the instructors or our classmates, encouraged one to do better and also to “pay forward” such feedback by commenting on the work of other students. In summary, each DS106 student embraced the concept that “It’s not about me – it’s all about us”.

Shedding light on my “Farewell to DS106’s Jim Groom” movie tribute

The light-bulb has been used for years to symbolize a new idea. It seems fitting that I used Animated Light Bulbsuch a device near the end of my previous tribute video to demonstrate that DS106 “turned me on” to new ideas and learning opportunities. Several people have asked me how I created this effect with my puppet.

I took my battery-operated rear light off my bicycle. Normally the rubber band stretches around the seat post to hold the light securely in place. Although the end of my index finger controlled my puppet’s tennis ball head, I simply secured the bicycle light’s rubber band around the lower portion of my index finger nearest my palm.  I then used my thumb to activate this flashing warning light at the appropriate time in the video. I trust you are now somewhat more “enlightened”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

– Flickr – Creative Commons image “students-in-class-with-teacher-reading”

Posted in Activity, DS106, How To, Professional Development, Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the Future – The Wayback Machine

Recently, I had an opportunity to look through some old family pictures. It was so delightful and meaningful to look back through these photos to recall different aspects of my youth more than 60 years ago. As I perused these pictures, I was so thankful that my parents had taken the time to capture these memories. Furthermore, such cameras actually used film and one had to take the exposed film into a store and wait for more than a week to view the resulting prints. So much … for “immediate” feedback.

Today, we have so many technical advances. For example, smartphones now double as cameras and Internet connectivity, with appropriate software, allows us to communicate not only by voice but also face-to-face in real time. However, I ask the very important question … who, today, is taking “snapshots” of your on-line blogs and web sites? Hopefully, in 60 years, you can look back and retrieve images and resources that you created in “the good old days” which helped educate your students, colleagues, and contacts world-wide.

Today, bloggers and web site designers, who embed links to enhance their message, run the risk that these external resources may, in time, disappear. Sometimes the original blogger has simply moved that particular resource, be it an image or a post, to a new location in his/her blog hierarchy. Other times, a web resource is moved from one server to another and the site domain name is changed. Such changes, to a remote resource, modifies the original URL address and the hyperlink becomes “broken”. When individuals click on such a damaged hyperlink, their browser generates a “404 error indicating that the file or directory cannot be found”. In a 2003 experiment, Fetterly et al., detected that one link out of every 200 disappeared each week from the Internet. Other studies indicated that between 3% and 5% of hyperlinks become “link rot” within one year.

Recently a reader contacted me to indicate that he had found an important broken link on my “About” page, which can be accessed by clicking the tab/link just below my blog banner image. He wanted to explore my old “Bits and Bytes” educational online newsletter. Unfortunately, when he clicked on this link, a “404 error” was generated.

Although I am meticulous in checking that all my links work properly before I publish each post, I can guarantee that there are many links throughout my blog that may now be broken like this one. However, this “Bits and Bytes” hyperlink, and the wealth of resources it accessed, was very important to me since I had invested so much time and energy during the more than 20 years that I edited and shared this monthly educational resource. When I was an Educational Technology Consultant for the Winnipeg School Division, the Internet URL that pointed to the “Bits and Bytes” resource was:

A few years after I retried in 2007, it was decided that the school division needed a new web presence and with it came a new, more secure, URL. Our familiar school division Internet address of: changed to

With this major domain name change, much of the old resources would need to be transferred into this new hierarchy to avoid becoming “link rot”. Unfortunately (in my mind), the “Bits and Bytes” online resources were not assimilated into this new web Winnipeg School Division web presence.  Following this action, anyone who clicked on a hyperlink that pointed to any items that were originally part of the “Bits and Bytes” resource, were now greeted with the “404 error” indicating that the result had disappeared.

However, when I was teaching students and teachers, we always reinforced that one should never share any private or malicious information, be it text or pictures, on the Internet because “you could never get it back”. Even if you were successful in removing the data from the initial site where you first shared it, your information may already have been acquired by other Internet mechanisms. This is true for both material that you later realized you shouldn’t have shared online as well as resources that you remain convinced should be shared with others.

The Wayback Machine
If you are interested in viewing websites or blogs from several years back, the Wayback Machine is an amazing tool. To date, this Internet archive has saved 430 billion web pages. In fact, January 24, 2016, will mark the 20th year that this unique “archiving system” has been capturing and saving cached web site pages.

Wayback-LogoTo use this tool, one simply visits the Wayback Machine and enters the URL:

  1. Locate the Wayback Machine in your browser.
  2. Enter the Internet address of the web site you wish to investigate in the field provided and click on the “Browse History” button.
  3. If the site was “captured”, you will be advised as to how many times the particular web site has been “saved”.
  4. The bar graph provides information as to which years were captured more frequently.
  5. When you click on a year in the bar graph, the months of that year are displayed below. The day(s) that the particular web site was archived are highlighted with a blue circle. The size of the blue circle provides feedback as to the number of snapshots that have been taken on a given day.
  6. Click on a blue circle date to get a glimpse into Internet history to see a “snapshot” of what that particular web site looked like, several years ago.

I encourage readers to play with the Wayback Machine to get a better perspective on how the interface works. For example, I suggest that you enter some of the following popular addresses which have been archived by the Wayback Machine and see what you can discover:

Retrieving “Bits and Bytes” Information
"Bits and Bytes" logoHowever, this post was written to help provide readers with a way to view the information and resources that were shared in “Bits and Bytes”.

To do so, follow the six steps above and simply enter the old “Bits and Bytes” Internet address of:  into the Wayback Machine’s search field.  The following display appears indicating that “Bits and Bytes” was archived 52 times beginning in 1999.

Wayback Machine-Screenshot[Readers may click on this image to improve readibility.]

For example, to explore archived copies of “Bits and Bytes”, click on the blue circle highlighting April 4, 2005. This process will provide you with an opportunity to select either the “Current Issue” or “Current Year” hyperlinks on the left side. However, if you click on the “Other Years” pull down menu, you can then select a specific year and month to see articles and resources that were shared during that period.

B & B - pull down-400x350Although there may be many images that do not display properly within this cached archive, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one could still download the various resources that were shared in the “Freebies” section at the end of each monthly issue.

In my early years as a computer education consultant, I worked closely with Christie Stefaniuk (now Christie Whitley). One of Christie’s insightful quotes was “As educators, we need to look back at our past, to recognize how far we have progressed”. Undoubtedly, the Wayback Machine allows us to look back, so that we can improve, as we move forward into the future.

Take care and keep smiling :-)

Posted in Application or Web App, Bits and Bytes, How To, Professional Development, Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teacher Feature #52 – The Value of Teachers

As a youngster in elementary school, I thought that only students looked forward to summer vacation. Once I became a teacher, I realized that teachers often looked forward to their holidays with even more enthusiasm than their students.

However, in about two months from now, the first day of a new school year will draw closer. It’s funny that as the remaining days of the summer vacation decrease, the appreciation that many parents have for teachers, often increases proportionally. True, over the summer, individual parents are engaged helping to plan and organize activities for their limited number of school-aged children.  However, when you mutiple this smaller number by a factor of 10 or 15, most parents begin to appreciate the patience and dedication of teachers who facilitate learning within much larger classrooms of students.

Teacher Feature-52-400x300
Teacher Feature #52 – Unknown Author – June, 2015

To those readers who are educators or parents, I wish you a happy Canada Day tomorrow and I encourage you to spend time over the summer connecting with your family.  May I be so bold as to suggest that you do your utmost to disconnect from the pressures of your daily lives by leaving your cell-phones and pagers turned off.

Yesterday, I visited our family cottage to help my sister clean up some fallen trees that had recently come down on her propertry. This cottage has been in our family since the 1920’s and fosters many dear memories of family life. Whether it was the chores of going to the pump at the corner of the street to fill a pail with water or cutting the lawn, the cottage was, and continues to be, a place that fosters important childhood memories.

Perhaps times were simpler then. We never had TV in the cottage. Rather we’d stay up until midnight playing cards or board games with family members. We’d read novels, go for long walks along the beach, build sand castles, and chase frogs. We didn’t need the Internet, iPad, laptop, Netflix, smart-phone, Nintendo, PlayStation or Xbox to connect with others or entertain ourselves.

To those who are starting your summer vacation, I urge you to follow the wise words of Arianna Huffington who stated “Disconnecting from technolgy to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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Teacher Feature #51 – Learning and Bicycling

There are at least two things in my life that are of great interest to me. Learning, as a life long process, and bicycling. In addition, I am continually amazed at how “connections”, fostered through the Internet, provide such unique opportunities to learn.

For example, Brian Wilson, a life-time friend and fellow cyclist, sent me an email containing a video link to “The Backwards Brain Bicycle” shared through “ViewPure”. I encourage readers to watch this eight minute video to gain insight into the ways learning and bicycling are related, how knowledge is not understanding, and how learning is so much easier when you are younger.

In school and university, I had to work hard to get good grades. I spent countless hours studying by writing out notes long-hand. For me, this process helped me remember important concepts and ideas for later tests. Learning new concepts didn’t come easily, but my work ethic helped me compensate.

Teacher Feature #51-400x300
Teacher Feature #51 – George Weah – May 2015

It was much later in life, when playing the board game “Trivial Pursuit”, that I better understood how I learned. A family member read out a trivia question from one of the game cards. Rather than concentrate on the auditory input, I asked him to show me the card so that I could read exactly the words that he had spoken. It seemed that my brain had difficulty retrieving the correct answer when I was only provided an auditory stimulus. It was then that I realized that I was a visual learner, as opposed to our younger son, who as an auditory learner, can repeat verbatim portions of the dialogue from movies he has enjoyed.

This difference in learning styles was demonstrated to me over the past few months. About one year ago, I joined the Winnipeg Golden Chordsmen – a group that sing in the 4-part a capella style of Barbershop harmonizing. Although each member is provided audio learning tracks of a new song in his “voice” (be it tenor, lead, baritone or bass), I had continual difficulty learning the lyrics. As a member of the “lead” section, I tend to sing the melody lines and lyrics of the song. Many of my colleagues would listen to a new song’s audio track, for a half dozen times, and would then have both the lyrics and tune committed to memory. Such individuals must be auditory learners because I could listen to the song for an hour at a time and still have difficulty remembering certain phrases. In fact, I had to type or hand-write out the lyrics so I could see where there were common words or when certain phrases were repeated to help me visualize the story behind the song and help me retain the lyrics. Obviously, I still have to use my limited auditory capabilities to help me learn the melody so that I can contribute to the harmonizing of our “lead” section..

Now … it’s true that 50 years have passed since I first started university. I recall that my university learning process was not blindingly fast but I know it was faster than it appears today. It seems to me that you are able to learn and acquire knowledge much faster as a young person and this talent seems to slow down with increased age. In fact, the previous “The Backwards Brain Bicycle” video demonstrates how a young child can master a task so much faster than an adult. True, the sample size may be somewhat small to prove significant, but I would still share this video with students to illustrate how much easier it is for them to learn, than when they become older. I encourage teachers to promote the idea, and comparative ease, of student learning.

As we age, we may no longer acquire information or learn at the same rate as youngsters. However, educators must continue and demonstrate their life-long learning to their students. For teachers, the acquisition of new and complex concepts may no longer be “as easy as riding a bike”, but we still need to explore them. For example, my good friend not only sent me “The Backwards Brain Bicycle” video to explore, he also provided me with an opportunity to learn more about “ViewPure”.

I must admit that when I first read my friend’s email about this biking video, I simply clicked on the embedded link without giving the details of the source address a second thought. However, I did notice that the video presentation seemed less cluttered than the standard “YouTube” display. It was then that I looked more closely and found out the “ViewPure” claimed to allow one to “Watch YouTube videos without comments, ads, or other distractions.”

As an educator, I ask you to view this “Backwards Brain Bicycle” video from two different Internet depositories to see which display you prefer:

If you prefer the cleaner, less distracting, display of ViewPure, you can copy the Internet address (URL) of your favourite educational YouTube videos, and use the features of “ViewPure” to “purify” the display.

Not only will this process help educators display videos with less distractions, it may also provide educators with a source for “purified” videos which are not restricted by your school’s or school division’s blocking software.

In summary, I encourage all youngsters to get in the habit of learning while they are young. In addition, I suggest that all educators foster a classroom learning opportunities, as exemplified by my Life-Long-Learners logo, where the teacher learns along with the students. Once you get in the habit of creating such a caring and sharing learning environment, it will become second nature … just like “riding a bike”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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Teacher Feature #50 – Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward Day is the last Thursday of April each year. This year it occurs on April 30th and it provides teachers with a powerful opportunity to teach more than traditional curricular concepts. My Dad used to say … “We are put on this earth to ensure that when we do leave, we have made the world a better place.” Likewise my thoughts return to my days as a Wolf Cub when we made the promise “to do a good turn to somebody every day.”

Teacher Feature #50 - Pay It Forward - 400x300
Teacher Feature #50 – April, 2015

I encourage teachers to explore the Pay It Forward Day free downloads and School Kits. In addition to the resources provided online, one can use the “Search L-L-L Blog” tool at the right and enter “Pay It Forward” (without quotes) to locate previous posts that I have written about this powerful teaching opportunity.

Recently a friend forwarded this YouTube video to me, which I will call “The Man in the Queue”, which I encourage you to share with your students. Likewise, a past video that I’ve entitled “Kindness Keeps the World Afloat” demonstrates how a simple act of kindness can cause an amazing ripple effect.

However, some of you may not yet be convinced and might say … “Ya …Great idea Brian. Too bad you couldn’t have shared this with me about 10 days ago so I could research, download, duplicate, and distribute this to my kids on April 30th.” To which, I reply, “True … I am posting this later than I intended. However, take time on April 30th to briefly expose your students to the Pay It Forward Day concept and ask each of them to think about what they might do as a random act of kindness. Afterall, now that you have the nessary preparation time, you and your students have all May to make the world a better place through doing a good deed.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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“Petals Around the Rose” – Problem Solving

I believe that problem solving is one of the most important skills that our students can acquire in our classrooms today. In a recent post, entitled “Problem Solving with ‘Aunt Emma’”, I described an engaging activity which helps students look at problems from a variety of different perspectives. Today, I want to share with you a similar problem solving classroom activity that you can use to challenge your students to think laterally.

Petals Around the Rose – Instructions
All one needs to demonstrate this activity is five dice which you roll following these three basic rules:

  1. The name of this activity is “Petals Around the Rose” and the name is important.
  2. The answer will always be an even number including zero.
  3. The facilitator can always tell you the number after any roll of the five dice.

The facilitator cannot tell you anything else. You must continue rolling and attempting to guess the number of “Petals Around the Rose” associated with each roll.

To get you started thinking, I will show you an image of four rolls with their respective even numbers:

Petals Around the Rose - 450 x 334

If you are like me, the four sample rolls above did not provide sufficient information to solve the “Petals Around the Rose” puzzle. However, I was not the only one having difficulty solving this challenge. In fact, I understand that in 1977, Bill Gates was also quite frustrated with this activity. I recommend readers review the following article “Bill Gates and Petals Around the Rose” to gain a better perspective on the challenge and how different individuals need a different number of rolls to formulate the answer.

If you are still unsure of the solution, I encourage you to initially play the simpler, online version of “Petals Around the Rose”.  More repetition may help you to formulate a rule. Once you have an idea as to how the number of petals are determined, you may wish to visit this second web site to “Play Petals Around the Rose”. Here you can test your guess to determine if you, indeed, have solved the puzzle.

However, like your students, do not be tempted, when you connect online, to visit any other sites that might divulge the secret solution. Even though this second interactive web site has a  “Search” field at the top of the page, do not use it to find an “easy solution”. I can assure you that once you have received that “shot of adrenalin” when you have honestly approached and solved this problem, you’ll thank me for being patient and not cheating. Furthermore, you will be so much more enlightened, that you will present this activity to your students in a much more powerful lesson. So take time to fully engage yourself in the learning process in a manner that you would want your students to use.

Teacher Tips
Like the previous “Aunt Emma” activity, it is very important to set the proper tone in your classroom for his problem solving activity. If you have struggled and have finally predicted the correct number, for six successive rolls, then you know how it feels to experience that “Eureka moment”. You do not want to deprive any student of this same excitement.

For this reason it is very important that all your students switch-off all Internet-connected devices so that they are not tempted to take the “easy way out” and search online for a solution.

Furthermore, it is very important that when a student thinks s/he has figured out the solution, s/he does not blurt it out in class. Rather, have that student identify the number of petals for the rest of the class or ask her/him to roll the dice for the class.

I’d also avoid introducing this activity in the last 10 minutes of class. Unfortunately, it will be too tempting for students, who have not yet solved the problem, to exit your class, seek out a friend on the playground, or “Google” the solution before next class. Such important learning opportunities should not be destroyed because your students did not have sufficient time to exercise their problem solving skills.

Readers who are looking for additionl ideas as to how best to introduce this activity to a class, are encouraged to explore this “Petals Around the Rose” lesson plan.

In my day, in the classroom, I would have rolled clear dice on an overhead projector so that the entire class could be engaged in the thinking process. Today, I’m sure some readers will have interactive white boards that will have a dice application that can be modified to randomly roll five dice to illustrate the “Petals Around the Rose” activity. For example, this YouTube video showcases how a teacher might incorporate “Dice in Smart Notebook”.

Another thought that you may wish to investigate involves renaming this problem solving activity. For example, if you know that some of your students will be tempted to go online and search for the solution to “Petals Around the Rose”, perhaps you might intoduce this activity under a new name. I’m sure that students will have a much more difficult time finding solutions to a dice activity called “Fish Around the Food” or “Planets Around the Sun”. That is, unless they find this blog post and exercise their lateral thinkiing to realize that either of the previous two activities can be solved in a similar way as “Petals Around the Rose”. The challenge for you is to come up with a new name for this activity.

In that I am retired and am unaware of the creative ways that teachers night project the roll of five dice for the entire class, I encouage readers to provide suggestions and tips regarding this problem solving activity in the comments below so that others may benefit.

Additional Resource
Scam School – The Secrets of Petals Around the Rose
Note: This YouTube video may not be appropporiate for student viewing.

The Back Story
I believe in giving credit where credit is due. It was Alan Levine (a.k.a. @cogdog) who motivated me to write about this problem solving activity. Several years ago, when I first enrolled in DS106, an online digital storytelling course, I found out, to my delight, that Alan Levine was one of the facilitators. Although Alan’s fame had preceded him as an educator, who shared so much through his “CogDogBlog”, I was eager to find out more about this dedicated educator. As the course progressed, I was so impressed with his talents in providing a creative face-lift to the DS106 web site and his skill in “tweaking” software to make it do his bidding. Wanting to learn more about his background, I “Googled” Alan and found out that, as an instructional technologist at the Maricopa Community College, Alan had developed a powerful online tutorial entitled “Writing HTML – A Tutorial for Creating WWW Pages”. What was even more amazing was that approximately 20 years ago, I had used this same tutorial when I was learning and perfecting HTML to showcase my school division’s online newsletter.

Upon further research, I chanced upon “alan’s no java shop” where Alan shared a number innovative programming creations and an interesting dice activity called “Petals Around the Rose”. I was intrigued by the name and, although his program fails to run today (as it needs a plug-in), I explored his dice rolling simulation for many, many rolls until I discovered the rule. At that moment, I knew I had found an awesome activity to share with educators who wanted to challenge their students. I bought five dice and, over the past year or so, I entertained friends with the “Petals Around the Rose” to see how they tackled the problem. Unfortunately, I never got around to writing about this problem solving activity.

One might ask “What prompted you to write about it today?” Well, today is Alan Levine’s birthday, and I thought that I’d send Alan a virtual gift of recognition, but more important, I’d share Alan’s gift of “Petals Around the Rose” with my readers.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #49 – Finesse Stress

The task of being a teacher today is one that may be filled with a variety of frustration. In fact, I believe that the daily stress in our teaching profession has increased drastically over the past decades. This is due to the fact that a teacher’s range of responsibilities and related expectations have diverged dramatically.

Earlier this week, a friend sent me a “swinging” image with the following text “Every time you feel yourself being pulled into other people’s drama, repeat these words … “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. This stress-reducing mantra is a translation of an old Polish proverb “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy!

Not my circus - Not my monkeys - 400x300

Teacher Feature #49 – Polish Proverb – March, 2015

I wondered why we, as teachers, can identify so well with this powerful, proverb. In my case, during an educational career spanning 40 years, I worked as a classroom teacher with junior and senior high students for 12 years. The vast majority of my educational career was spent as a provincial and divisional Computer/Education Consultant. Many might argue that spending only 30% of my career as a classroom teacher, reduced my exposure to stress significantly. However, I maintain that any dedicated individuals, working in the educational system today, be they Teacher Assistants, Teachers, Consultants, or Administrators are subjected to stress. With this in mind, I wondered why this might be the case.

When I attended university, I worked each summer at Coca Cola on the bottling line where bottles were cleaned, filled with product, capped and packaged for distribution. I’m sure there were the odd days when the job may have had its stressful moments. However, at the end of the day, when we “punched out” our time card, we went home and left those frustrations, and work-related problems, at the job site.

Educators, it seems, do not have such luxuries. Their job, together with the stress of the day often goes home with them. Furthermore, today’s educator seems to be tethered to the job and often to parents by email and other social media applications. The job, which we all know, continues well past the 9:00 am to 4:00 pm day when the school is open. Furthermore, the “teaching day” together with it’s related responsibilities, continues to get longer.

Another reason that I think teachers may gravitate towards drama and added stress in the workplace is that we all want to be helpful. We want to be the “ring leader” and bring happiness and put smiles on everyone’s face. Most students who enter the Faculty of Education do so because they want to improve education and help students succeed. So when students, or other educators, attempt to draw one into their problems, and the related drama surrounding the situation, we often feel the need to “jump in with both feet” and do our best to help. Unfortunately, the results can be both overwhelming and we may not be as helpful as we had first intended. If you are one that can’t avoid jumping in to help “every circus in town”, the following Bill Cosby quotation below will probably resonate with you:

“I don’t know the key to success,
but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Am I suggesting that you withdraw your help from everyone? No … I think it is more important that you look at “each circus” and determine how best you can support the situation. Sometimes, even walking away and forcing those individuals to work through the issues themselves, provides them with a chance to learn and develop their own coping skills.

When a “new circus” arrives in town, you have to ask yourself … “What is my motivation for becoming involved and, more importantly, what will my involvement cost me in terms of time and stress?” Take time to ask yourself if you can really bring, or add, something unique to help resolve the problem for all involved. If you cannot, bow out gracefully, rather than simply adding another individual to the melee.

Lastly consider what will be the consequences, should you not choose to participate. After all, if you are not going to be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem. Sometimes one has to be selfish, if you are already trying to manage several monkeys in your own circus. Furthermore, in today’s educational environment, you know there are always going to be new circuses coming to town.

These can be tough decisions but perhaps you will remember this Polish proverb and ask yourself whether you might reduce your stress by not getting involved but in just “monkeying around”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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Problem Solving with “Aunt Emma”

Are you looking for a classroom activity, which will stimulate your students’ thinking? Would you like to witness a spark of excitement in your classroom as students start to problem solve in a creative manner? If so, you might want to introduce them to “Aunt Emma”. From her picture below, you will note that Aunt Emma looks different depending on your point of view. Some view her to be a young woman whereas others think she is rather old and ugly. Regardless, this Aunt Emma exercise should help students focus and look at problems from a variety of angles. Hopefully, such activities will help your students look at, and analyze, problems in a different light as they develop the “HOTS” (Higher Order Thinking Skills).

Aunt-EmmaThis exercise works best when you are working with at least 10 students. One begins by explaining to the class that you were going to introduce them to the likes and dislikes of your favorite aunt … Aunt Emma. You might begin by stating the following clues:

  • “My Aunt Emma likes tennis but hates curling.”
  • “She likes skiing but doesn’t like skating.”
  • “Auntie is ‘wild’ about coffee but dislikes tea.”

The class environment for this problem solving exercise is critical. Encourage students to hypothesize (to themselves) about the relationships between the things that Aunt Emma likes and dislikes. If, for example, a student states, “Your Aunt Emma likes movies but hates T.V.”, you can simply reply … “No … I don’t think you know my Aunt Emma.” Whereas a student who volunteers that “Aunt Emma likes baseball and dislikes golf” can be encouraged with “I believe you have met my Aunt Emma.”

It is very important that students are given initial instructions not to tell the class or classmates what they believe the rule to be. Rather they are encouraged to test their hypotheses by volunteering items, which Aunt Emma likes and dislikes. Explain to students that you want as many of your students to become excited when they discover for themselves what Aunt Emma likes and dislikes. Those students who blurt out a hint are robbing their classmates of the thrill of discovery that is so important in the problem solving process. Be definite that you will only accept statements from students who begin with “I think Aunt Emma likes … and dislikes … “. Be quick to interrupt any child who attempts to short-circuit this problem-solving activity by blurting out the reason for Aunt Emma’s likes and dislikes.

Some teachers may wish to bring both local and world Geography into this exercise by selecting nearby streets in the neighbourhood as follows:

  • Aunt Emma frequently drives down Jessie Avenue but avoids driving down Lilac Street
  • Aunt Emma enjoys traveling on McPhillips Street but doesn’t drive on Atlantic Avenue
  • Aunt Emma loves visiting Greece but does not like Ireland
  • During the long winter. Aunt Emma travels to Hawaii but never to Florida

Encourage students to test hypotheses regarding Aunt Emma’s likes and dislikes. It is exciting to watch a spark ignite in your classroom as one or two students see the pattern or discover Aunt Emma’s rule and assist you by giving clues to her likes and dislikes for their classmates. Provided students do not give hints to their friends (because you want as many students as possible “have the light go on” for themselves), you will see a spark of excitement smolder and burst into flames as the higher order thinking skills take over and students begin making inferences about Aunt Emma’s likes and dislikes.

I have usually conducted this activity with middle and senior years’ students (ages 10 – 17) by simply giving verbal descriptions of Emma’s likes and dislikes. For younger children, or those having difficulty solving the problem, one can assist them by putting Aunt Emma’s likes and dislikes on a blackboard, interactive white board, or overhead projector to assist those who need visual clues. Some of these might include:


Likes Dislikes
noodles soup
jogging walking
cookies cake
apples oranges
loonies quarters
Jeep Ford
hammer screwdriver
baseball hockey
the colour green the colour red


The visual clues, shown using a projection device or blackboard, (as opposed to strictly auditory ones) should help many more students become actively engaged in this problem-solving task. It is a good idea for the teacher to have a list of Aunt Emma’s likes and dislikes prepared in advance. However, rather than the teacher always providing the clues, it is important to go back to students who seem to have deciphered the likes and dislikes of Emma to continue contributing in order to help their classmates and reinforce that they, indeed, have the correct solution to the problem. If some students need a little more help, you can always share some of Aunt Emma’s favorites, such as:

  • Aunt Emma LOVES reading the “Winnipeg Free Press” but hates the “Globe and Mail”
  • Aunt Emma LOVES the Mississippi and Assiniboine but dislikes the Red and Seine rivers
  • She loves “beetles” (insects) but hates the “Fab Four” band known as the “Beatles”

Lastly, if some students still need additional help, you can always underline the double-letter “M”’s in Aunt Emma’s name as a final clue. I have found this classroom activity helps focus the students’ thinking about relationships and attributes and broadens their perspectives in problem-solving.

In summary, the importance of the teacher in a problem-solving environment must not be overlooked. Although problem-solving resources and the computer, with appropriate software, can help create the “teachable moment”, it is important that teachers question the thinking process that students go through as well as a model effective problem solving strategies. Often a three-step questioning approach is useful:

  1. “What do you think?” helps focus the student’s position. No comment should be made as to whether that position is right or wrong but it should be follow by;
  2. “Why do you think it?” This step provides students with an opportunity to state the rationale behind their thinking. Additional questions which explore exceptions, special cases and apparent contradictions, will cause students to expand their thinking to the limits; and
  3. “How did you figure it out?” asks the student to relate the steps or processes used in arriving at that position.

The teacher must be involved in the problem solving process and must pursue all three steps of the questioning model. Whether the initial answer to “What do you think?” Is right or wrong is irrelevant. The answers to the final two questions are much more revealing than the answer to the first one. The teacher, through proper questioning, can assist students to develop problem-solving strategies that can apply in a variety of circumstances or subject areas.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

“Aunt Emma” Poster – A useful PDF image for promoting this activity.
Optical illusion: Old or young woman? Solution! This YouTube video will help you distinguish between the “young” and “old” woman in this famous optical illusion.
– Source: Slight modifications have been made to an earlier article, I wrote entitled “Problem Solving with Aunt Emma” by Brian Metcalfe – “Bits and Bytes” – Vol. 16 No. 6 – Apr. 2000.

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Teacher Feature #48 – Independent Thinking

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, has stated:

“Back, you know, a few generations ago, people didn’t have a way to share information and express their opinions efficiently to a lot of people. But now they do. Right now, with social networks and other tools on the Internet, all of these 500 million people have a way to say what they’re thinking and have their voice be heard.”

What can we, as teachers, do to encourage such independent thinking in our students? First and foremost, we must provide a classroom environment that encourages students to risk-take and feel comfortable when they make mistakes.

Teacher Feature #48 - 400x300
Teacher Feature #48 – Author Unknown – February, 2015

In my mind, two important skills that all students should acquire in any K-12 grade or curricular area are: the ability to problem solve and the the ability to collaborate. In today’s ever-changing job market, these two skills will provide our youth with an opportunity to enter the work-force with assets that will always be in demand.

As a former Mathematics and Computer Science teacher, I was always encouraging my students to problem solve and my classrooms were decorated with puzzles to stimulate the minds of my students. I must admit that when I first began teaching Grade 7 & 8 Mathematics, I tended to think that the way students in my class should solve a particular problem should closely follow the algorithm that I used or was demonstrated in the textbook. Thankfully, when I started teaching Computer Science to Grade 11 & 12 students, I quickly learned that there were many different ways of programming a computer to solve a problem, True, some computer programs might be more efficient because they used fewer lines of code, but I embraced the diversity of my students’ solutions and was quick to demonstrate the variety of solutions. In addition, I found that students in Computer Science seemed to collaborate and help each other de-bug their print-outs looking for the errors in syntax or logic.  For me, teaching Computer Science was a powerful environment for problem solving and a culture to foster collaboration.

With this fresh idea of problem solving fixed in my mind, I want to share with you some unique activities or lessons that I have used with students. I’m sure, as educators, each of us can recall a handful of lessons that were truly inspiring or ones that had a profound impact on both your students and yourself. Like the above powerful quote, I want to share with you some classroom ideas and activities that will cause your students to think and wonder.

So stay tuned, as I share some of my “most unforgettable classroom problem-solving experiences” in my upcoming posts.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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