doug ... off the record
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Why Wouldn't You?
If you're still looking for a reason to get and stay connected via Twitter, then you need to check this story from CNN. I believe it to be a glimpse into the future. Police department twittering? Why not? It's free and a massive way to send a message to the masses. Sure, we have television and newspapers for local news stories but that requires that you are in a time and location to be able to access it. With the mobile web, a blast from a central source has the potential to hit you where you happen to be and to be persistent should you need to be away from it for the moment. Think of the possibilities. As you drive into Toronto as an example, there are overhead signs on the 401 that let you know of impending traffic issues. But, there's nothing to let you know that there's an immediate issue on Dundas Street. However, if police or a traffic control source could send out a tweet, you could check it as you rush out the door or on your mobile device. As more people embrace this technology and start to leverage it as a key part of their daily lives, there is an enormous potential to change the way that we do business. Unlike bloated websites with their sponsorships and massive links to advertising and every other related resource, Twitter messages are short, to the point, and on topic. What more do you need when you need to immediately know the facts?
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Reflections from Rollout
It was an incredible day for a rollout. In a cool room, we dug into the new Computer Studies document and spent a very productive time doing it. There was a great deal of good and creative discussion and ideas to help us be successful with the mandatory implementation for September 2009. One of the sections in the new curriculum talks about the role of ICT in Computer Science. While this may seem like a natural fit, the question becomes how? In 2004, I had created the Computer Science Project Research and Development Webquest. Even at that time, the suggestion was to use a wiki to allow the students the opportunity to build and collaborate. I am going to have to dig back into that webquest and make it relevant for the new curriculum. I'm thinking that it won't be a too terribly big job but more than ever the use of wikis supports student learning well. Whenever you dig into the online tools, you do have to do so with your eyes open. We need to be constantly aware of the "low hanging fruit". There are some pretty low level applications where the inclusion really doesn't make the use worthwhile. We need to constantly strive for the best that's out there.

I ran into the above graphic on the Visual Bloom's wiki yesterday. Quite graphically, it reminds us that not all applications have the same educational payoff. As we incorporate these things into our practice, we need to reach higher and push to get the best value for the time spent online.

And, certainly for teachers, look and add your own resources to delicious using the tab icsxx.

It was an invigorating day and I know that the real winners will be the students who enjoy the new ICS courses.
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Ethics

Image by pittigliani2005 via Flickr
As I put the final preparations together for the Computer Science rollout, this story comes in from the BBC.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/7932816.stm

In an effort to show computer security, an online bot was acquired and reportedly turned loose on  22000 computers in the United Kingdom.  The report goes through and explains the results and what could have happened had this bot been used for evil.

Obviously, this opens the door for a lot of great discussions about viruses and other malware that you can run into on the internet.  Part of the new Computer Studies guidelines talks about setting up a home computer and network and steps that need to be taken to secure it.

A related report:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/7778395.stm

gives advice about what is needed to make your home computer safe and secure.

Above and beyond learning about the steps needed to be secure, it seems that this opens the door for a great discussion about ethics. 

  • Is it OK to turn a bot loose like this for research purposes? 
  • What's the difference between this and what a person with evil intents would have? 
  • Could the same results have not been generated in a controlled environment? 
  • How many other activities like this (evil and not evil) are run all the time? 
  • How do you determine what is a good activity and what is not so good? 
  • How do you know that an experiment like this stays within the scope of the 22000 computers?  What would have happened if the bot got out of control?
  • How do you turn it off?
  • How do you track it down?
  • If the BBC could do this, what's to stop anyone from doing the same thing?
  • Why don't operating systems just ship with appropriate firewall settings?
  • What's the difference between the firewall that ships with your operating system and open source and commercial products?
There are lots of news stories daily that can be used to start great classroom discussions.


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Computer Science Planning, Day #3

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And the tools and techniques just keep on coming.

That's the thought that I have as I dig into the Grade 12 courses.  In this particular, I'm digging into the strand entitled Software Development.  In both courses, "Project Management" is a significant section.  The implication to the classroom is that we're now digging into major projects that will request some planning and managing over a period of time.

Depending upon the course, you'll notice a good collection of suggested tools.  Gantt charts, PERT charts, wikis, calendars, schedules to plan and schedule a project from beginning to conclusion.  Along the way, there are review and refinement cycles.  Particularly in the Grade 12 course, you'll see a focus on user specifications.  After all, if you are developing code, it needs to be appropriate to the person who is driving the need.

Very clearly, in both courses, there is an expectation of good communication as the software development proceeds according to project specifications. 

In course development, it is going to be very important to focus on the achievement charts, and at present I'm tied to the Application category where students will be "Making connections within and between various contexts."  Properly done, this should really draw an importance to the types of projects that will be used to engage students.



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Computer Science Planning, Day #2
As I continue my efforts towards understanding the intent of the new Computer Science Curriculum, I'm starting to focus on the difference between the University and College level of the courses. The Grade 12 University Course is entitled "Computer Science" whereas the College Course is called "Computer Programming". Similarly, the Grade 11 courses are called "Introduction to Computer Science" and "Introduction to Computer Programming". As indicated in yesterday's post, both ask the teacher to address the concept of the Environment which is significant. In this day and age, that's a really refreshing approach. In particular, I'm looking at the Grade 11 course to try to get a handle on what the difference is in content delivery between Computer Science and Computer Programming. Each of the courses has a strand entitled "Programming Concepts and Skills". Within this strand, there are three sections. In both courses, there is a section entitled "Data Types and Expressions" and "Control Structures and Simple Algorithms". Within each, there are the basics that must be covered in any programming environment or language. i.e. things like integers, strings, floating point numbers, Boolean values. This is good. You're not going anywhere without a grounding in these basics. Boolean operators - of course. Everyone needs to know that. It gets interesting to know the extent of where students are headed. In the Computer Science course, in addition to the above, students are expected to understand the notion of one-dimensional arrays in their problem solving. That's missing from the Computer Programming course. While the basic requirements to create a program exist in both courses, the level of abstraction is evident in the university course. The final section in both courses (4th in Computer Science and 3rd in Computer Programming)
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is so crucial to the study of computer program development. It's a section that addresses Code Maintenance. Why didn't they have this stuff when I was in Grade 11? Our technique was "Program doesn't work? Go fix it." Now, we're going to provide students with the tools, techniques, and knowledge to quickly zero in on problems during development and then the ability to go back in and update code when a change is needed. This is very good. The university course adds one additional section. Students will be expected to use existing and write their own subprograms. This is a significant skill that students absolutely require for sophisticated program development. As I'm working my way through this, I'm continuing to be impressed with the thoughts and efforts that have gone into the design of these courses. They will serve the students of Ontario well in their future endeavours.
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Computer Studies
I spent considerable time this weekend thinking about Thursday. On Thursday, all of the Computer Studies teachers will be brought together to dig into the new Ontario Computer Studies document with a mandatory implementation for September 2009. In the course of my job, I get to work with computer using educators at all levels. I can draw with Kidpix, create a wiki, analyse data with Tinkerplots, create a desktop publishing document with the best of them. But, my first teachable is Computer Studies. It has fallen on tough times recently, attracting only a portion of the students that it had previously. With computer ubiquity, more and more students and parents "know computers" and don't see the value. After all, if you can create a "powerpoint" or "Google something", that's all that you need to do, right? Hah! There are talented people who actually create the code to make this work and even more who need to know how works for training, public relations, sales, and so much more. With all the Web 2.0 startups, and new software, there are more jobs than ever for people who know how to produce code and/or understand how all of this works. Even if you're not going to be a programmer, the skills and knowledge from a Computer Studies program are of incredible and increasing value today and will be into the future. There's a lot of good things in this document. First of all, it recognizes that Computer Studies is a legitimate discipline. It does so by breaking it away from the previous Technological Studies document and it now stands by itself. Secondly, starting in Grade 11, it offers two pathways for students. Instead of the previous M designation for courses, there is now a C - College and U - University option with significant differences in both programs. The document contains instructions about how the activities that students undertake should address literacy, numeracy, and inquiry/research skills. Teachers are also reminded that activities should also be designed with the Ontario Skills Password in mind. Unfortunately, the policy and curriculum document stops short of making at least one Computer Studies course compulsory. Hopefully, once the excellent content is understood by students and guidance departments, the importance and relevance will make it an attractive option. I am also impressed that each of the courses contains a "Computers and Society" strand and that "Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability" has its own section. This is an increasingly important area that all need to address. I think back over the years to all of the computers that I have owned. Often, they are donated to schools, but at some point they do end up in a landfill somewhere. Even as a board, we turn over computers annually. While we do donate them to "Computers for Kids", there does come a time when they are totally discarded. This topic is so important. Just maybe there will be someone sitting in a classroom who will take this to heart and come up with a stroke of genius to solve this problem. In the meantime, every student needs to understand their imprint on the environment. At the Ministry rollout, the Education Officer encouraged everyone to begin the process of identifying good web resources and bookmark them on Delicious with the tag "ICSXX". The process has begun and hopefully continue as a province full of Computer Studies teachers gears up for this implementation. I know that I've been tagging there and also in "ComputerScience", "Computer/Fluency" among other things. For example, this activity, deals with Computers and Canadian Culture. There's even more of the good stuff in there. I spent far too long this weekend here. But, you know what? I solved them all. I studied Computer Science.
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