Learn_typing_at_the_speed_of_thought__Typing_lessons_that_work__and_Inbox_—_Sun_West__543_messages__8_unread_ I am always on the lookout for new things, websites, gadgets and helpful resources.  Well today I stumbled on http://www.keybr.com.  I was looking for a good little typing program that I could use when students take elements of the Information Processing course.  Part of that course is learning to touch type.

I currently think learning to type is a good skill to have.  I remember back in the day when I had to learn on a typewriter, with no delete or backspace key.  Out of all the courses that I took in high school, it really is the one that I still use the most.

Anyway, no need to ramble.  What is interesting about keybr.com is the fact that there is all sorts of analysis provided on your typing skills: Words per minute, increases/decreases in proficiency etc.  For someone who can touch type (but is not really that great) it may not show improvement well.  But for someone just starting, I think all the graphs and charts will be nice immediate feedback for students.

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When you change school divisions in Saskatchewan (and elsewhere I’m sure) you become a beginning teacher once again.  It’s not that they treat you poorly, or don’t respect or count your experience it’s just like starting out at a new company.  They hired you because they expect that you can do your job, but for the next two years they provide supports, and evaluate your performance to make sure that you can actually do your job.  (I’m good with this, I have a completely different role moving from classroom science teacher, to the teacher/facilitator of independent, work at your own pace learning.  It really is quite the change, so I appreciate the extra input.)

The other part is that you get to participate in all the things that a beginning teacher gets to participate in – if you want to, you are not forced to take them.  Workshops on instruction, assessment, learning about the role of the teacher’s federation as well as getting to learn about the new school division.  The thing is, that although some workshops become a little repetitive regarding the core information, there is always something to be learned, a strategy that is new, and relationships with others that can be built.  It’s a good idea to take these opportunities and learn what you can.

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Wellness_10___Sesame_and_Wellness_10It is all well and good to have a program running at your school or school division like Pearson’s Gradebook.  The joys of getting marking up into a system that works with weighting, assignment groupings, and even helps you with comments.  I’m not being sarcastic, for me it’s been quite effective to help me keep marking organized.  And when it’s fully going, we can let parents know exactly what’s happening with attendance, and grades.

Just one problem.   We only have it set up for one evaluation model: a marking scale for an assignment, and an overall grade in percent for the courses.

Ok, two problems, it’s really not that great for formative assessment or diagnostic information.  You can put data in the program, but once you have the marks in the program they are just a value, you can add comments, but it’s pretty limited.  As well, you can only view it through a java program that may or may not open depending on what update of java you have on your computer (fine, three problems).   It’s not difficult to run the program, it’s just not multi platform, and so making quick adjustments or providing some formative feedback can be a little bit more difficult.

So a recent program I learned about on twitter was this app/program called Sesame.  sesamehq.com is the web address for their online portal and the have a program for iOS called Snap.

I’m still in the early days of trying it out, but it’s giving me ideas!  First off, you can have a few different kinds of assessments that are preplanned (like my rubric, checklists and marking scales above).   The created assessments can be completed on the fly.  Say you sit down with a student to discuss their progress with an assignment.  You can easily use the app, or a browser on your computer, to do a formative assessment of their work.  By doing so, you can discuss why they may only have a 2 for research quality or creativity in the current state of their assignment.  By doing so the student can then go back with knowledge of what you are wanting them to adjust, and they can make the necessary changes.  Quick, clear, and easy to work with.

Another interesting thing about the iOS app is that you can take a snap of the student’s work: a quick video, a photo, or record a quick note about what a student is doing.  These are then saved to the app, and you can attribute that snap to a student or a group of students.  This allows you to capture the non-verbal, hands-on activities in progress.  They can give a very clear picture of how the student works with the concepts you need to assess, and what you may need to do to advance their understanding or skills.  I am looking forward to how this may be used in an environment where students sometimes have difficulty providing written reports or responses to the hands-on style activities I like to include in our science classrooms.


So I’m still exploring with this app, but I find that is proving to be a useful tool to prepare for assessment.   It’s helpful for undertaking those assessments with less effort on the marking focus, and more effort on actually observing what the students are doing.  It’s another tool in my organizational toolkit.

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Rhino Hero

A Positive Learning Environment comes about when a number of factors all come into play.  The relationship with the students, and the interactions outside of class time are a big part of creating that positive environment.

Our school has a pretty strong sports culture.  We enjoy playing and competing in a variety of areas.  I love sports myself and I still take pride on being a member of the badminton team for three years when I was in high school long ago.  I coach a number of sports, including badminton.  The coaching has allowed me to connect with students in a variety of circumstances, and in different ways than times in the classroom.  This is a great thing.

For my years at Valley View, I’ve been increasing my involvement in other extra-curricular areas.  Areas that I take a great interest in: My love of science, playing with various toys and electronics, and my enjoyment of board games.  These are not only areas of interest for myself, but also areas for students in the school, sometimes students who have no interest in physical sports.  I have been so happy to take students to Robot competitions, and hopefully there will be some who will be competing in photography and video production skills competitions in April.

This week marked our first extra-curricular board game group.  There have been a few occasions where I have led board games in class, but I wanted to provide time with my students to explore games beyond connection to science curriculum.  So we began this week.  We had three students out.  I’m sure this will get a bit bigger, but I’m happy even with a small group.  Here are a few photos from the games we played this week.  Hopefully I will have more reports and games in the coming weeks.

Games from last week:

Rhino Hero: 2-4 players.   Create a tower of bent cards.  Either get rid of all your cards to win, or make sure you don’t make the tower fall otherwise you lose.  Simple but oh so fun.

Rhino Hero

Rhino Hero

Jupiter Rescue: Co-operative game 2-6 players.  Unfortunately a group of not so bright humans who are stuck on a space station have become the focus of an attack by creeps (aliens).  You and your fellow robots (the players) need to save as many people as you can from the creeps before they take out the station and the crew.

Jupiter Rescue - For more than half of the game, if we lost one more person we would have lost.

Jupiter Rescue – if one more person perished we would have lost the game.

Jupiter Rescue - Robots rush to save the poor helpless humans - Thank you Asimov.

Jupiter Rescue – Robots rush to save the poor helpless humans from the advancing creeps – Thank you Asimov 

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Finally, The science 10 trio of motion design projects is fully realized.

This week was airplane launcher.  Here is a quick little video of the final products.  The students did a great job, and there was some excellent design ideas explored.  They are currently working on their design diary including diagram of the object, and things that they would change to improve results.

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Petri Dishes to store the virus cubes!
Petri Dishes to store the virus cubes!

Petri Dishes to store the virus cubes!

Specific roles and abilities!

Specific roles and abilities!

Board games are incredible. The stack that I have at my house keeps growing. There are so many good designs, so many good themes and topics, and so much fun to be had. And the hobby is growing, so this is good.

So, my science theme games. I will preface this first. These may be games that I would like to use (or have used in my classroom). However some would probably never make it to an actually class for time or complexity reasons.


#1 Pandemic and Pandemic The Cure. (Both games are designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-man Games).  These games I have played in class, and will continue to do so.


Pandemic – Original Version

Do you have a unit that involves the study of viruses? Do you want to teach a bit of geography? Do you want to have a study of the roles that people take in the midst of an outbreak like Ebola, or measles? Do you want to encourage cooperation, strategic planning, and the being ok with failure? These games are for you.

Pandemic was created in 2008 and involves epidemics spreading around the world. The players are a team of scientists and support staff with different roles sent out by the Center for Disease Control from Atlanta Georgia. Your task is to manage, research, cure and eradicate four diseases that are spreading in different regions around the world. If you are able to prevent the spread of disease and cure the four conditions you win. Fail to manage the spread you lose.

The game is pretty easy to teach, and plays in about 1h – 2h. It can be difficult to win, but is such an enjoyable experience despite the morbid theme.


Pandemic The Cure - the shorter simpler version

Pandemic The Cure – the shorter simpler version

Pandemic The Cure is a streamlined version of Pandemic. Instead of using cards for play, you have action dice and disease dice. The concept of victory or failure is similar to Pandemic in that you need to prevent the spread of disease, and attempt to cure all four conditions.

This game is still very tough to win. However it plays in a quicker time, around 45 minutes. I’ve played with students in high school and they got it quite easily. There are less decisions to be made in this game, and the geography component of the game has been simplified.

I would recommend either one, I have both, and they are both great games!

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This is post number one for our #saskedchat blogging challenge. I am just one day away from missing the deadline (new challenges are presented Thursday/Friday). Man, what a week to decide to start a challenge: report cards, beginning of new semester, my wife away for the entire week at a couple of conferences and me home with the three kids. I’m not complaining, but I am glad I have a little bit of energy left to get to this on this fine Wednesday evening.

I am always looking for new tools and ways of keeping organized, connected, and decreasing the glitches and hangups in my workflow. There are two tools that I am using that help me stay organized. iCloud and Planboard.


For those who are unaware, iCloud is Apple’s way of accessing documents across multiple devices. If you write something in their word processing app (Pages) and then close the app, the idea is that you could pick up on another device like another computer, your iPad or iPhone. iCloud also maintains a web portal with your calendar, mail, and more recently pages, numbers and keynote files. (Pages is the equivalent of Microsoft Word, Numbers is the equivalent of Excel, and Keynote is a superior version of Powerpoint). The web portal of these apps is still in beta but has improved over the years.

About one year ago, Apple’s iCloud was a pretty average online portal and a rather glitchy way of using documents across multiple devices. I lost all documents following some kind of update. A number of times I would shake my fist at the computer screen when a document wouldn’t sync: I would show up at school to try to find my day plan, and it wasn’t there. And it took for ever for the online portal version of the pages program to allow editing of tables. This was a big deal – all my day plans and unit plans were in tables, so I wasn’t able to edit these files on our school machines.

But don’t let that last horrible paragraph scare you away. The iCloud service, in tandem with Pages and Keynote, is my go to way of organizing my documents and presentations. The syncing between devices is very quick and I’m finding very few glitches, errors or loss of data. The web portal is amazing now. Our school machines are PCs but I can edit documents through the iCloud web portal, I can set up my presentations on my iPad, Mac or iPhone and still present on my classroom PC to my SmartBoard. iCloud has made working with documents and presentations very easy, making them readily accessible across multiple machines running different operating systems. This has made finding, managing and storing files very easy, and has made this part of my workflow very simple.


I’ve been a teacher for just under 4 years. I have never used paper for a day plan, but I had been using an inefficient and multiple file method of creating day plans in a word processor. There was a twitter point that came across my path at one point during this school year. It was about another online web service called Planboard, and so I decided to check it out.

Planboard is a web-based free day planner. You set up your schedule, you can attach curriculum expectations to your courses/subjects and you can even break things down into units. My reason for continuing to use planboard over my old method is the fact that I can attach documents into my day plan, and I don’t have a separate file for each day of the week and a separate week plan. Planboard allows me to access my day plan and week plan, on any machine. If I’m on a school system I can then access my associated documents and print them using the school printers. Such a better tool for organizing all of my day plans into one place. It has been very easy, and is much better than having a pages document with plans, a flash drive with some pdfs that need to be printed and trying to remember which weird file names on my flash drive go with which course.

Some other great features about Planboard. You can copy entire courses or units into new terms and semesters. If you don’t have time to do a lesson, or need to continue with the same content for another day you can shift all lessons forward for that course. Great little features that make continued use of this service even better.

I very much appreciate when technology actually makes work easier, and with iCloud and Planboard, I find that the technology is serving it’s purpose and making things that much easier to do.

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