Problem Solving – A Matter of Perspective

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Motivating students to solve problems has definitely changed over the past 40 years. When I first began teaching Mathematics, and in particular Geometry, to junior high students, I had a number of posters decorating my classroom. Of particular interest were the ones that showcased the creativity of the Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher. His mathematical art, with its unique tessellation symmetry and creative transformations was truly amazing. However, it was the impossible constructions shown in creations such as “Belvedere”, “Relativity”, and “Waterfall”, that captured the imagination of most students.

Forty years later, imagine my delight when our younger son, who is a software engineer in San Francisco, shared with me the artistic puzzle game Monument Valley.


This Android, iOS, and Kindle puzzle, which only costs $3.99, is described as “an illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness”. One attempts to guide the silent Princess Ida through a series of remarkably artistic formations. Each screen, which can be printed, is a work of art that utilizes perspective altering images based on the Penrose Triangle and Escher’s “impossible cube”.

Knowing that some educators do not have access, while at school, to YouTube videos, I screen-captured 39 images and created the following animated GIF to provide a better perspective of this unique adventure. This looping animation starts with a black slide, together with the Monument Valley title and information slides. Follow Princess Ida as she travels from within her black circle at the bottom ever upward in her quest to navigate this creative environment:


[Editor: Please be patient waiting for this large animated GIF to load & display.]

I would encourage readers, who wish a more complete overview of this magical puzzle environment, to view the “Monument Valley Release Trailer” on YouTube.

In addition, older students, particularly those who have an interest in artistic design, mathematics and/or computer programming may enjoy exploring the following two resources which give insight into how Monument Valley was created:

Spoiler Alert
Should you decide to purchase this puzzle for your students, for your family members, or friends, I recommend that you advise them to not explore YouTube videos to help with solving any of the 10 different levels of Monument Valley. As all educators know, true problem solving comes from involvement, struggling, manipulating a puzzle and exploring different paths. Searching for a solution on the Internet or in a YouTube video is akin to looking at the Answer Key at the back of the book.

Regardless of whether we are experiencing a challenging puzzle or aspects of life, in general, we should remember Gail Lynne Goodwin’s quotation … “Perspective can make our problems look bigger than they really are.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #34 – Holiday Thoughts

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Today, K-12 students are on their winter break in Manitoba. Tomorrow, many of our students’ families will celebrate Christmas. As a result, a good number of our youngsters will return to school, in the new year, having received gifts which employ the latest technology.

What impact does such technologically-enhanced gifts have on our students and, more importantly, what impact will it have on our teaching?

Teacher Feature #34 - Marc Prensky - 400x300
Teacher Feature #34 – Marc Prensky – December, 2013

I suggest that there are two actions that all teachers can take.

First, we reduce asking factual questions that can easily be found through a simple Google search. Rather we must challenge our students to use higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and, where possible, encourage them to complete activities and projects in a collaborative manner.

Secondly, we must focus on teaching students digital citizenship and how to protect their digital footprint.

For example, one of my favourite research activities demonstrates how creative teachers can challenge students in new ways. Gretchen Offutt, a grade 5 teacher in Bellingham, Washington, designed this innovative research project for her students. I contacted Gretchen and asked for her permission to share her creative activity in the December 2001 issue of my “Bits and Bytes” online newsletter.  The article was entitled “HOW TO … engage your students in meaningful research”.  Twelve years later, this innovative project still has extreme relevance for today’s teacher.

Rather than ask her students purely factual questions such as:

  • “In what year did Ferdinand Magellan sail though the “Straits of Magellan?”
  • “Off what continent is this passageway located?”; and
  • “What were the names of Christopher Columbus’ three ships?”

Gretchen challenged each student to use higher order thinking skills and teamwork to research and defend:

  • “Under which captain, be it Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, or Sir Francis Drake, would you have preferred to serve and why?”

Thankfully Gretchen shared this amazing resource with her students and other educators by creating an Internet web page called “Explorers Homeport”. Although these links might be rather slow, I can assure you that they are well-worth any delay for readers to experience this well-crafted and thought-out research activity.

The fact that my “Bits and Bytes” online newsletter and Gretchen Offutt’s “Explorers Homeport” are no longer available for perusal from our respective school district’s servers, leads us into the second action of teaching students “digital citizenship”.

Many Manitoba educators, who are infusing “Literacy with ICT” into their classrooms, find it easier to focus on the five “Big Ideas” within the Cognitive Domain. For example, “Plan and Question”, “Gather and Make Sense”, Produce to Show Understanding”, “Communicate”, and “Reflect” are all steps that teachers employ when teaching using the Inquiry process.

However, it is my feeling, that teachers find it more difficult to deal with the four “Big Ideas” within the Affective Domain. True, “Collaboration”, and “Motivation and Confidence” can be introduced and practiced in most classrooms. However, “Social Implication” and, in particular, “Ethics and Responsibility” are two areas that may not be dealt with sufficiently.

Yet, with the increased access to technology that students have outside school, they need to be taught how to use it in a responsible way. Although Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are blocked in many of our schools, students need to be taught or modeled on how to use such social media in responsible ways. I feel that students need to know how to maintain their privacy and how to protect and preserve a positive digital footprint.  After all, once a photo or login name, which is associated with one of our students, is shared or created on the Internet, it is there forever!

As I wrote this month’s “Teacher Feature”, I certainly learned first-hand how this “publishing forever” concept could damage one’s reputation.  Although I’m sure both Gretchen and I are proud to share what we have uploaded or created on the Internet, this may not be true of all our students. For example, it has been 12 years since Gretchen created her “Explorers Homeport” and my last issue of “Bits and Bytes” was uploaded to the world-wide-web in June, 2007. However, if today one was to attempt to link to either of the original Internet addresses (URL), one would get an error message stating “The page you requested no longer exists” or “Server not found”. For a student who may have uploaded an inappropriate photo or had perhaps made some caustic remarks online, s/he might be extremely happy if the original indiscretion could no longer be located where it was shared online. However, more than likely that picture or comment has been transferred or shared on other servers and it cannot be totally removed. Even if it has been deleted from the original site, and has not been replicated elsewhere, the Internet archiving “Wayback Machine” may bring it “back to life”.

For me, the “Wayback Machine” is a useful tool to retrieve information that I may have published several years ago. For example, in my last post, I couldn’t remember when Rod Brown and I first came up with the idea to create a “Let’s Get Connected” contest. However, each June, I created an index of the topics and information shared in my newsletter during the previous school year. So I simply entered the following URL, for a specific June issue, into the “WayBack Machine”:

The “Wayback Machine”, without my knowledge, archived “snapshots” of my newsletter “12 times between January 1, 2003 and October 4, 2006.” I simply had to click on a black bar on the timeline (e.g. the last bar in 2003) and click on any blue circled date (e.g. August 3, 2003) to view much of my newsletter contents together with links to additional resources.

Students need to be taught that there exists applications like the “Wayback Machine” that can use to highlight indiscretions that one may have thought were deleted.

In summary, teachers need to create authentic learning activities which engage students using technology to which they have access. In addition, such learning must better prepare students to be responsible online digital citizens.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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

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Brian Metcalfe: A Life-Long-Learner

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The Educational Technology and Media #ETMOOC, that I recently joined, suggested that participants introduce themselves in a unique manner. Following in the creative steps of Jess McCulloch, I decided to try my hand at writing and narrating a poem to help others better understand my learning journey.

Learning Journey Poster

Once my poem was created, I thought that I would read it and share it as an audio file through SoundCloud. Readers should be able to hear my narration by clicking on the “Play” button below. Should the orange “Play” symbol not display, readers may have to click on the hyperlink to transfer and play my narration from the SoundCloud web site. I have also included the text of my poem so that one may more easily follow along.


Brian Metcalfe: A Life-Long-Learner

Here’s an audio introduction
to a Metcalfe, named Brian
who keeps on learning each day,
without really tryin’.

My educational career
spanned 40 great years!
I shared resources and ideas
with any, and all my peers.

I taught grades 7-12 students
Computer Science & Math,
and for my last 25 years
took on a new, career path.

Towards Educational Technology
in a consultant’s new role,
To help K-12 teachers
use technology was my goal.

I created a monthly newsletter
which was called “Bits and Bytes”.
For 23 years I shared resources
and worked on it many long nights!

Some say I’m somewhat anal ;-)
with a perfectionistic passion.
I believe in … a “job well done!”.
I trust it’s still “in fashion”.

I really value family and friends
and am truly lucky as well,
that my “best friend” is my wife
with a family … that is swell!

My teacher-wife & I retired together
and are no longer wage earners.
So I created an educational blog
which is called “Life-Long-Learners”.

I’m now enrolled in a MOOC –
a massive, open, online course;
where one gets to choose assignments
where engagement is the force!

When you start to chart your own path
MOCCs make learning fun!
Supported by a creative community,
Your learning’s never done!

So I ask … what do you value?
What can you share
with educators world-wide
to show that you care?

So I’m passionate about sharing
and learning for me is beguiling.
So I’ll sign off, as always, with
Take care & keep smiling :-)


Credit: The “Learning is about the journey …” image was created by Krissy Venosdale and is available from her {Free} Posters web site.

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“Tools For The 21st Century Educator” – P.D.

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Sisler High School, the Winnipeg School Division, Eyeconic Media and Microsoft Canada will be hosting a five day Professional Development session on cutting edge ICT skills for digital learners during the week of July 9 – 13, 2012. Our goal is to engage and empower educators through hands-on workshops.

Although the cost for each workshop is $50.00, anyone may sign up for individual morning or afternoon workshop sessions which are of interest:

  • Workshop 1: The Cloud Classroom – Monday July 9th, 9:00 am -11:45 am
  • Workshop 2: Web & Gaming Graphics – Monday, July 9th, 12:45 pm – 3:30 pm
  • Workshop 3: Video Conferencing in the Classroom – Tuesday, July 10th, 9:00 am – 11:45 am
  • Workshop 4: Video Editing for the Web – Tuesday, July 10th, 12:45 pm – 3:30 pm
  • Workshop 5: Photo-imaging for the Web – Wednesday, July 11th, 9:00 am – 11:45 am
  • Workshop 6: Introduction to Web Design – Wednesday, July 11th, 12:45 pm – 3:30 pm
  • Workshop 7: Web Graphics & Animation – Thursday, July 12th, 9:00 am – 11:45 am
  • Workshop 8: Audio Composition – Thursday, July 12th, 12:45 pm – 3:30 pm
  • Workshop 9: Game Design for the Web – Friday, July 13th, 9:00 am – 11:45 am
  • Workshop 10: Online Teacher Presence – Friday, July 13th, 12:45 pm – 3:30 pm

Additional P.D. details and specific workshop content can be found in the E3 Workshop Booklet which may be downloaded in PDF format.

There are still some workshops seats available, so register as soon as possible at: Eyeconic Media (

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Under the Influence – Shaping History

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Teachers of History or Social Studies may find the following “Famous People Painting” to be a unique way of engaging students. If one clicks on the hyper-link or the image below, one will be presented with a much larger picture painted by the Chinese artists Dai Dudu, Li Tiezi, and Zhang An. However, when one mouses over an individual on this web site, a tag identifies the person by name, whereas clicking automatically transfers one to an appropriate Wikipedia resource.

(Click the above image to transfer to the interactive site)

I encourage educators to share this resource with their students. Who knows, such interaction may engage students and help them appreciate how these individuals impacted society.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Tagxedo: A Time-Saving Teacher’s Tool

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Teachers are always looking for resources that can aid them in the teaching process or engage students in their own leaning. Some may be familiar with a free web-based tool called Wordle which can be used to create generate “word cloud” images from text that the user supplies. Although many educators and students have embraced the use of Wordle, one of its big limitations was that users coluld not easily print their word cloud creations. In early January, I created a “DS106 word cloud“, and like many of my colleagues, I had to use a screen capture process to save my Wordle creation as an image or to print out the design.

However, today I wish to share with readers a new word cloud tool, called Tagxedo, which has a built-in print feature as well as other options that will excite educators. This free web application is unique because it can create complex portraits like the one of Steve Jobs. I encourage readers to click on the thumbnail at right to see the detail and words used to describe this industry game-changer. However, rather than focus on the advanced portrait feature, I will share ways this product might be used, with a minimum of time and effort, by students or teachers.  The Tagxedo web site describes this application as follows:

Tagxedo turns words — famous speeches, news articles, slogans and themes, even your love letters — into a visually stunning word cloud, words individually sized appropriately to highlight the frequencies of occurrence within the body of text.

Tagxedo which is pronounced as [tag-SEE-doh] can, like Wordle, create simple displays in which word sizes are based on the frequency of the words provided in a list or web site address. However, teachers and students will appreciate the added features of this educational tool in that users can display Tagxedo word clouds in different shapes, colors, themes and may save and/or print the result in different sizes.

As a way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, I chose to have Tagxedo display words in the shape of a four-leaf clover or shamrock. Rather than enter a list of words, I selected Manitoba Education’s “Literacy with ICT Across the Curriculum” web site and entered this URL, “” (without quotes), as input.

Imagine the impact that teachers and students might have using shapes such as following:

  • Treble Clef: outline formed by a variety of different musical terms;
  • Shark: outline shaped by the different predator types;
  • Check Mark: outline formed by all students that have completed  a certain activity or project;
  • Bus:  boundary delimited by the names of all the students in one’s class who travel by bus to school;
  • Bird: display of migratory or endangered birds help  shape this image; and
  • Tree: outline defined by coniferous tree names.

In order for teachers to fully utilize Tagxedo, I recommend that they investigate these web sites:

So what are you waiting for? Go play with Tagxedo and see how it might be used in your classroom.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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World War I: Nothing to sing about

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Our next audio Daily Create challenged the DS106 learning community to:

“Using your voice as the only instrument, create a recording of a verse and/or chorus from your favorite song.

Readers who have followed my posts over the past year know that I try, whenever possible, to include what I refer to as “teachable moments”. When these situations occur in the classroom, it is a wise teacher who takes advantage of the opportunities to add some extra element to the instructional process.

So too, whenever I am provided with such an opportunity. Rather than record a verse and chorus of my favorite song as suggested, I chose the following rather poignant song from World War I.

Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire by Brian Metcalfe

Educators who are reviewing World War I, with older students, may want to look at the war through music such as the following:

  • Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag
  • It’s A Long Way To Tipperary
  • For Me And My Gal

Interesting discussion can result regarding what the lyrics mean and what was the purpose of the song.

Teachable Moment
Rather than asking students to write a traditional essay about World War I, I know of educators who have engaged their students by giving them creative alternatives such as:

  • building models of a battle-field or a trench system
  • researching a particular soldier who was killed in battle
  • writing a soldier’s letter home from the trenches
  • interviewing a veteran and sharing his/her story

After studying these various World War I songs, ask students, working in pairs, to write the lyrics of their “war song” which matches a tune with which they are familiar.

I encourage educators to view the following YouTube videos which showcase both images from World War I as well as an accompanying musical track.


Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Ambient Audio – A rather “quiet” story

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The first Daily Create task in Week 6 of the “Audio” section of my Digital Storytelling DS106 course, challenged us to:

“Tell the story of a place in one ambient audio recording.

In other words, I am to capture a “sound bite” of background noise and share it with the DS106 learning community using the SoundCloud application.

There is an interesting parallel between the types of Daily Create activities that were assigned during the past “Visual” and the current “Audio” sections of the course.

At the start of the “Visual” section, in which participants were encouraged to take at least one photo a day, the Daily Create activities focused on looking at things differently. The examples below demonstrate how the student is encouraged to take photos which sharpened one’s sense of sight:

  • Take a photo that emphasizes the detail of a human hand
  • Make a creative photo silhouette by aiming the camera into bright light.
  • Take a picture of your feet that shows what kind of day you’re having
  • Take a photo where movement of the camera creates an interesting blur effect

In a similar way, today’s Daily Create will help me sharpen my sense of hearing.

I captured the following background sound sample as I crossed a rather busy intersection:

Traffic @ Intersection by Brian Metcalfe

It is amazing to me to begin to hear all the ambient noise that takes place in the  background, that our brains “ignore” as we go about our daily activities.

It certainly looks like this DS106 “Audio” section will provide me with a number of “sound” ideas.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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DS106 – “So you think you can dance!”

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Today’s DS106 “Design” assignment is one that has a creative application in middle and senior year classes. Tim Owens submitted “The Big Caption” which he describes as:

In the spirit of take any photo featured on The Big Picture ( and add typographical text elements in a way that changes the message.

I was amazed at the wealth of powerful, newsworthy, “large format” images that were displayed on “The Big Picture” web site. Undoubtedly teachers and students studying current events need to explore this superior resource.

As I viewed the various photos on this web site, I tried to look at each picture, in turn, through a “different lens” in order that I might change the intent.  For this assignment, I selected this rather serious photo, taken on February 1st, showing marching Afghan police during the authority transfer between NATO and Afghan security forces. Please be assured that it is not my intention to poke fun at the Afghan situation in any way. However, during this assignment I was challenged to alter the image’s message by attempting to create a humourous situation from ones that were definitely serious or tragic.


When I saw each left foot raised in unison, I immediately thought of the “Hokey-Pokey” song and dance. Next I spent considerable time exploring the standard default fonts that were displayed in Photoshop Elements. Although I tried several different styles, I did not find a font that looked “musical” to me. Rather, than be stymied at this point, I wondered if there were any free True Type fonts that I could find on the Internet that I could download and install on my computer.

Imagine my delight to find ““, which claims to have a collection of 16,678 fonts for Windows and Macintosh computers. I browsed through 10 pages of fonts in the “Music” category and downloaded the following two:

I downloaded and unzipped these two compressed files to my Windows XP desktop. I then clicked on “Start > Settings > Control Panel > Fonts”. Once my current installed fonts window was open, I clicked on the “File > Install New Font” menu items. Next, I navigated to my desktop where the two downloaded unzipped files were located, selected each in turn, and clicked the “OK’ button to add the new True Type fonts to my computer.

When I returned to my “Photoshop Elements 6′” (PSE) application (which was still open) and highlighted the current text string, the newly-installed fonts did not appear in the drop-down list box. However, when I exited and re-started PSE, the necessary links were re-established and the two new fonts were now available for use.

I then used these two different fonts to enhance my captions which definitely changed the impact and message of the existing serious picture to one of humour, albeit “warped” in the eyes of some.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Fair Use Educational Image Credits:

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A sweet tweet may be too fleet!

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Have you ever received a tweet containing a great idea or educational resource, only to have it “disappear” when you need it? Have you ever wanted to share an idea, about a week after you had learned about it through a  Twitter feed, but because you had not designated it as a “Favorite”, it too was “lost”? Perhaps you have shared an idea or re-tweeted someone’s awesome resource and yet when you want to share this same tweet with another colleague, two weeks later, the tweet can no longer be located. If you have encountered these or similar situations, I have some possible solutions.

Unfortunately my incoming tweets, from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) seem to have a very short “shelf life”. For example, I find that tweets seem to be “visible” in TweetDeck, (which I use to scan and send tweets), for about two days. When I visit my original Twitter application, I can at least review tweets for up to four days before they are no longer available. True, I can probably adjust the “Settings” in TweetDeck and change the “Max. number of updates in a column” from the default value of 200 to a much larger number. However, regardless of what the maximum number of tweets that are displayed, I am sure that “Metcalfe’s Law” states that “one will need to locate an important Twitter message at least one day after the tweet vanishes from the system.”

Here are two strategies that I use to retrieve information in tweets, after they seem to disappear:

1.   Use any of the following “” twitter newspaper archives. Thanks should be extended to the dedicated educators, whose names appear in brackets following the archive process that they initiated.

To learn how you can retrieve tweets from any of the “” archives, I recommend that you view my previous blog post entitled “Teacher Tool: The Manitoba-Educators Daily“. These archives provide an excellent source of ideas and resources that are either shared or received by Manitoba educators using Twitter.

2.   I admit that I often check Andy McKiel’s “The manitoba-educators Daily” because it is a powerful archive of tweets that have been created or re-tweeted exclusively by Manitoba educators. However, I must admit that there are times that I would like to have a personal archive of the tweets that I have sent out. Such a mechanism would allow me to retrieve from my “sent tweets” and perhaps DM (direct message) or send a particular tweet to other educators.

The solution that I implemented was to install the “Twitter Tools” WordPress plugin on recommendation from my DS106 instructors. They emphasize the communication and connecting that is so important in today’s world. Thanks to “Twitter Tools”, regular readers may view my latest three tweets under the “Tweets I’m Sharing” header in the green right-hand margin. Perhaps what I value more is the weekly archive of my tweets that are automatically generated each Sunday morning. For example, yesterday’s “Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-02-12” lists the 30 tweets that I either created or re-tweeted during the previous week. Furthermore, if the reader wishes to click on my “Social Networking” category in the green right-hand margin, all of my weekly archived tweets will be displayed.

I trust these strategies will help you keep better track of your tweets since I know that they are already helping me.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

–   Flickr – Creative Commons image “Follow me on Twitter
by Slava Baranskyi–

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