Instructional Media or “What’s an Overhead?”

Web 2.0 meets Web of Life

June 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

The assignment was this: take an established lesson that you teach, and rewrite it to include a Social Network. You might envision how grade sevens could use Facebook to do their fractions, or perhaps how Twitter could be used to explore word usage in Language Arts (come to think of it, these ideas have the seeds of successful classroom learning activities, but I digress). This lesson took a standard summative assessment task assignment for Grade 7 Science in the Ontario Curriculum, and used a lesser know Social network, Edmodo, for students to share and evaluate their products.

In the Ontario Science Curriculum, the unit Interactions in the Environment includes the following expectations:

  1. explain why an ecosystem is limited in the number of living things (e.g., plants and animals, including humans) that it can support
  2. describe ways in which human activities and technologies alter balances and interactions in the environment

Using the theme of “Local Endangered Species,” students will gather, organize and analyze information about a local species under threat and create a mindmap using a Web 2.0 tool. They must then post their mindmap to the Edmodo discussion forum, and use a Rubric to checklist their own as well as some peers’ work, and add their comments too. The Mindmap should include information about: biology, habitat, local range, status, an action plan for improving the status as well as images, maps or links. Of course, students would have received direct instruction about mind mapping as well as introductions to the various Web 2.0 mind mapping sites before beginning. They would also require an introduction to Microblogging, specifically the use of Edmodo.

I experimented with three Web 2.0 Mindmap tools in the process, and these were invaluable lessons in themselves for assessing the strengths and weakness of various tools for school use. Mindmeister was the most flexible (it has lots of features such as links and images), Mindomo the most robust features, but with a steeper learning curve and was the simplest to use, and also yielded the plainest mindmaps due to limited features. Each has advantages appropriate for various learners and could be used to assist in differentiating instruction.

The choice of Edmodo as the social network tool was simple. I wanted a tool that I had limited experience handling (I tried it out with a few colleagues one day over a year ago but never in the classroom) and it also had limited features that would not overshadow the learning goals of the unit. The focus was on local endangered species, and peer sharing and evaluation, not the many features of a full blown social network. Click on the image below for a closer look at the Edmodo environment.


Edmodo Screenshot

Edmodo Screenshot

Before starting, I reactivated my Edmodo account and became re-familiar with the Edmodo environment. It handles simple posts (140 characters) but also handles embedded objects, like the Mindmaps I was going to create. I made three “student” accounts and a class group in which to work, and then set about trying the three Mindmap products. When I opened Mindmeister, I discovered a map that I had created for a previous Wilkes course some time ago. It was related to the same ecosystems topic so I posted it as my sample.

Teacher Sample

After setting up my student account, I set out to improve on the quality of the teacher sample and use Mindmeister’s full set of features. The results are embedded below.

Monarch Butterfly Mindmap

Jefferson Salamander Mindmap using

Hooded Warbler Mindmap using Mindomo

The Mindomo embedded Mindmap may not appear, so its direct link is provided here.

An added element for evaluation would be to include a Google Form for the self, peer and teacher evaluation, like the sample below. The form would include all elements of the Rubric as well as comment spaces, that correspond to how well each expected feature was done and the depth of research that was completed.

Example Google Form for Evaluation

Please email me if you wish to obtain access to my Wilkes Edmodo group and see how the embedded links and student submissions appear.
This is a practical example of the merging of Science and Web 2.0, and I look forward to implementing it with students.

Tags: Internet Tools

UPDATE- Canada’s New Copyright Law tabled in House of Commons

June 2nd, 2010 · No Comments

Although it’s too early to tell for certain, it seems as though the rumours about what was to be in Canada’s new Copyright Law were pretty much dead on. A few weeks ago I blogged about the impending introduction of the new law, Bill C-32. According to today’s CBC report, Michael Geist, chair of Internet Law at Ottawa University claims that the Bill as written, “is flawed, but fixable.”

We’ll be following this one very carefully. Stay tuned.

Full text of Bill C-32 can be read here.

The announcement was made in a rather unusual way, from the headquarters of video game designer EA in Montreal. The news release is linked here.

Tags: Internet Tools

Creative Commons vs. House of Commons

May 16th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Just when Canadians thought the Guergis-Jaffer affair was yesterday’s news and all was quiet on “The Hill” (in Canada, that’s a reference to Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the aforementioned “affair” is a little government scandal that has monopolized the news here), the Government has quietly turned up the heat on the copyright issue, in a little noticed, “let’s not let the public get alarmed” sort of way. According to a reliable source, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to introduce a new copyright law, which will mirror that of the United States, contrary to the mainstream point of view that was collected during public consultations held  by the government last year.
Michael Geist, Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, holds the position of Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. Not coincidentally, Geist is the Co-Director of Creative Commons Canada. In a recent Blog Post, Geist warns Canadians about the impending introduction of a new Copyright bill. Just how the bill will look when it is introduced remains to be seen, but judging by Geist’s warning, Canadians need to be alarmed at the way it is playing out. He claims that the two Ministers involved (the younger, progressive, iPod generation Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mr. Moore, vs. neo-conservative, “takes his marching orders from the Prime Minister’s Office” kind of guy, the Minister of Industry, Mr. Clement), could not reach agreement and that the Prime Minster has given the order that a new bill, with more restrictive, US style DMCA provisions, and less “fair use” provisions will be on the order paper. Canadians are all too familiar with this Prime Minister’s habit of taking, in the past,  his own marching orders from the former Bush government and its big business, right-winged Republican agenda. As shown in this video , where Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Stephen Harper, before he was Prime Minister, read almost identical speeches in their respective Parliaments, it’s not a stretch that Harper will do so again (This speech was about invading Iraq, to the benefit of the Military-Industrial Complex, but I digress!). Despite the fact that the video was produced by the opposition Liberals and is, therefore, somewhat biased, there are few plausible explanations other than the speech was supplied by the Bush administration. Both Parliamentarians are strong allies of the Republican party in the USA. What’s not clear, is why Stephen Harper has chosen to fashion the new Canadian Law after the US DMCA, disregarding the clear messages delivered by the Canadian public during the consultations about the need for clear, progressive, “fair use” provisions.

This preamble is critical to understanding the background to the point I am now about to make concerning Creative Commons. Why would Canadians, Americans, citizens of the world, for that matter, let their individual governments decide how the information they create, post and share freely be controlled arbitrarily by anyone else other than the person who created it? Copyright laws tend to be black and white- either you can copy it or you can’t, with little wiggle room in the middle. They tend to favour, I think, publishing companies and big music companies rather than artists. The use of Creative Commons allows the creator to freely choose what purposes and the conditions under which their own creations can be used by others, as opposed to a Government deciding to protect the interests of those who did not create it.

In a way, licensing your own work, a photo on Flicker, a video on Youtube, a Blog post on Blogger circumvents the power of special interests who see copyright as an authority to be used to control the free flow of information. That is why I have chosen to use Creative Commons Canada License 2.5 the “Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada” license. This allows for the free sharing and remixing of this Blog, as long as attribution to me is given.

There is a powerful message delivered when we encourage students to put Creative Commons licenses on their own Blogs, Voicethreads, Glogsters and other online creations. We have taught by example when they see the license on our Blog. They will see the value of their own digital citizenry when they check the origins, ownership and licenses associated with the information they consume from the Internet when being creative, and in demanding that others respect their license, they will understand that acting with integrity means reciprocating.

So, I am all for holding the power to distribute my work and bypassing the Government of Canada, who have acted too slowly on the copyright issue, more worried about their tenuous hold on power rather than the speed at which technology is changing in this country and around the world. Branding our creations, albeit insignificant ones like this Blog, send a message to governments everywhere: What’s mine is mine and I have the right to tell the world what they can do with it.

And by the way, please share this Blog freely with your friends and colleagues. Just tell them I wrote it.

UPDATE- it appears as though the government ministers battling it out over the new copyright law for Canada may be in role reversal. Moore, the younger, iPod generation government Minister who oversees Canadian Heritage is in favour of more extreme and restrictive copyright provisions and Clement, the older, and more neo-conservative, Minister of Industry, has taken a less restrictive, more “fair use” approach. Could be an interesting battle when the Bill hits the floor of the House of Commons, as early as next week.

Tags: Internet Tools

A sad day for Canada, a sad day for the World – Earth Day 2010

April 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

To quote Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star: “Earth to Canada. What happened?”
Once a leader in environmental issues, and now, the laughing stock of the world, Canada’s government marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day today by…well…doing nothing.
In sharp contrast to the United States, which only a few years ago completely frustrated the rest of the world by its intransigence on the existence of climate change and other environmental issues under President George Bush, Canada once fought for and lead the western world on environmental policies. Canada’s leadership was well regarded, that is, until the agenda was highjacked by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. A quick search of Youtube today shows that President Obama’s Earth Day speech has already received almost 8,000 views. It was notable in that he specifically challenged teachers and students to continue working for a cleaner, healthier environment.

And what was said, of note, by Canada’s Prime Minister? Nothing. Rien. Mr. Harper seems to have forgotten that our two nations share a continent. For years Canada battled with the USA over cross-boundary pollution. Now that we have a government south of the border that actually listens to and acts on trans-boundary and global issues, the Canadian government has taken the approach that all this is of little relevance, and the celebration of Earth Day is just like any unremarkable day.
And what kind of example does that leave our children? The message is clear. The environmental issues that the next generation will face just don’t matter anymore, and children might just as well learn about other things. The struggle of teachers to help students understand the challenges of energy, the environment, ecosystems, biodiversity, climate and health issues using unique teaching and learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, has very little support from the Government of Canada, and particularly its leaders.
It all seems a little hopeless. But just as governments come and go, teachers, and the children they serve, the ones who become the next leaders of the nation, will overcome the self-serving interests of present day short-sighted politicians and make a difference. The power of great teachers and engaged students is a great hope.
I just have to look out the window of my classroom and see the wetland that was saved by students acting united to force a government to preserve it for future generations. Earth Day reminds us that the power of a small group of educated youngsters, lead by dedicated teachers and other leaders, can accomplish much more than narrow-minded governments.
To quote President Obama, who inspired our school motto for the year: “Yes we can!”

Tags: Differentiated Instruction

The National Atlas of Canada

November 17th, 2008 · 1 Comment

The National Atlas of Canada

Having always had a fascination with maps, I immediately saw the potential for the National Atlas of Canada’s website in education. There can be found here more maps than one can actually study in a lifetime, due to the fact that the site has pre-made printable maps, in addition to user created maps on an almost infinite number of topics: history, economy, health, geology, environment, climate, transportation, population, and hydrology. In fact, only the curiosity of the questioner and the depth of information that one seeks limit the maps that can be created.

Therefore, if creative minds are the goal, encourage students to seek information about Canada that intrigues them.

Here is an example: Grade Sevens at my school often research Natural Disasters. Given a type of disaster, students could research the location and magnitude of a disaster such as Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Hurricanes etc.

Here’s How:

Go to the Atlas and pick: Environment-Natural Hazards-Tsunami.

Zoom in to an area of the country of interest. Click on Population overlays. Add roads or other human data. Centre the print area. Print a colour PDF for study. The parameters of the map are completely user defined.

Here is an example of the map created. BC Tsunamis Map

Pop-up-windows allow the user to examine individual events, perhaps leading to further research questions.


Earthquake Event



Cascadia, 1700






Latitude 48.5° 15’ 20″ N / Longitude 125° 00′ 00″ W



January 27, 1700



Recorded widely in oral native accounts and by geological evidence for subsidence and a tsunami along the outer coast; confirmed by a tsunami record in Japan. Extent of damage unknown.


Number of Deaths:

Unknown, native villages destroyed according to oral traditions



Yes (in Japan from tsunami)


Related Tsunami:










This data set may trigger further research, analysis and understanding. Students might compare events of different time periods, or at different locations. Or they could compare the relationship between two different disasters e.g. earthquakes and tsunamis. Perhaps their curiosity would lead to other types of creative pursuits, such as a podcast of a radio broadcast of an historical disaster or their own video on how to prepare for such a disaster in the future, or a brochure on the topic.

No matter what the end product, a student will have a richer understanding by using the creativity of the map making feature at the National Atlas of Canada.

Tags: Uncategorized