Category Archives: Innovation

Winnipeg School Division Coding Challenges

Code Challenges
Code Challenges

I have been throwing some coding challenges up on my Twitter steam lately using the [#WSDHSchallenges]( hashtag as a kind of test to see what kind of response I had to this sort of thing. The response has been fairly strong and so I am exploring the next step.

I really can’t take credit for this whole idea actually. It’s really modelled after the Hour of Code activities, and the Twitter challenge connection was suggested by the incredibly smart cookies that attended my coding session at this year’s CHARGE 2016 conference for preservice teachers at the University of Winnipeg I had the honour of being asked to participate in.

I want to solicit some feedback from followers to try to determine the kinds of challenges that followers might find most useful. To that end, please complete the short embedded survey to give me some ideas on how to tailor the up coming challenges.

My intention is to begin the challenges starting as early as March and I want to make then as focused as possible so any and all feedback is appreciated. I would love to have the feedback back be month’s end! Thanks in advance for the quick turn around.


QR Code for WSD Coding Challenge Registration form
QR Code for WSD Coding Challenge Registration Form



Binary Alphabet with Lego

Robot Header/Footer
Earlier in the year I posted about a teacher in the Winnipeg School Division who created a lesson around binary bracelets. Recently, a colleague of mine directed me to a similar idea created by the LEGO brand!

Actually, the LEGO site documented four separate ideas: an online Bits & Bricks Hour of Code Activity, a Binary Alphabet, a LEGO mini robot and a LEGO game building activity. All fabulous on and offline coding based activities. But I want to focus in this post on the Binary Alphabet activity.

Binary Alphbet
Binary Alphabet
Lego Computer Coding Binary Alphabet
Lego Computer Coding Binary Alphabet

The concept is actually rather simple… White LEGO blocks represent 1s, Blue LEGO blocks represent 0s & Red LEGO blocks represent Spaces between letters. Use the binary converter and some information found at “A Binary Tutorial” or on Base 2 and away you go having your students creating binary messages related to whatever they fancy: positive messages, poems, descriptive words, site words…

What delighted me about this offering was that it was code related and yet offline!
Robot Header/Footer

Scaffolding Question Building in an Innovation Landscape

Training of the Mind
Training of the Mind

When I first started exploring questioning in some detail was when I was hired to support teacher in the Winnipeg School division with the Inquiry process embedded in the LwICT Continuum. That was in 2007 and my understanding of developing question with student has evolved somewhat over the years since. I thought I might share this evolution with you in this post entitled Scaffolding Question Building.

At first, I relied heavily on Manitoba documentation that went along with the Literacy with Internet Communication Technology Continuum documentation that the province provided online. Blooms taxonomy was one of the theories used to ground this continuum and was, in fact, used heavily in terms of framing the questioning section of the process. This seemed a logical starting place.

Blooms Revised
Blooms Revised

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of thinking organized by level of complexity. It gives teachers and students an opportunity to learn and practice a range of thinking and provides a simple structure for many different kinds of questions and thinking. The taxonomy involves all categories of questions. Lower level questions are those at the remembering, understanding and lower level application levels of the taxonomy.

Usually questions at the lower levels are appropriate for:

  • Reviewing and/or summarizing content
  • Scaffolding to higher level questions

Higher level questions are those requiring complex application, analysis, evaluation or creation skills.

Questions at higher levels of the taxonomy are usually most appropriate for:

  • Encouraging students to think more deeply and critically
  • Problem solving
  • Encouraging discussions
  • Stimulating students to seek information on their own
  • Create new meaning

In the early days, I spent a lot of time developing activities that aligned with helping students develop question at each level of blooms. I modelled many of the activities after the ones found in the books Q-Tasks Edition 1 & Q-Tasks Edition 2:

Koechlin, Carol, and Sandi Zwaan. Q Tasks: How to Empower Students to Ask Questions and Care about Answers. Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2006. Print
The focus was generally placed on using question WORDs to format questions: who, what, where, when, why, & how…

Question Words: Who, What, Where, When, Why & How
Question Words: Who, What, Where, When, Why & How

This was a very prescribed approach that worked well for teachers starting out. Together, we spent a lot of time dissecting questions, trying to help teachers and students understand how questions were constructed and how to get students to come up with better questions. Things were working, but teachers needed more helping understanding how deep questions are created. My colleagues and I tried another resource on questions:

McKenzie, Jamieson A. Learning to Question – to Wonder – to Learn. Bellingham, WA: FNO, 2005. Print

This was an overwhelming book all about question types. Too much information as it turned out, but a valuable reference in small doses. It gave teachers some back ground, but was fitting the bellman terms of getting the results we were hoping for in terms of question generation from students within their inquiries. We needed something different.

Applying some of what we know of Anne Davies about regarding setting criteria, that’s when we hit upon a question creation process that seemed to help.

Gregory, Kathleen, Caren Cameron, and Anne Davies. Setting and Using Criteria: For Use in Middle and Secondary School Classrooms. Merville, B.C.: Connections Pub., 1997. Print.

The process went something like this…

Question Process
Question Process

We discovered, not surprisingly, that our criteria for both types of questions changed or needed modification as we encountered diverse examples of & talked about the intent behind more and more questions. We kept adding to or adapting the criteria that we had previously set. To give you an idea of the kind of criteria that has been created by teachers in past inservices, have a look at the lines of the quoted text snippet below:

A deep question leads to the seeking of personal understanding, could have many different answers, inspires more questions and conversations, can be answered in many ways, is motivating, and leads to ownership of the learning process. Deeper question lead to answers that are often created, not “found” in books or other resources. (living draft)

One clever teacher at Lord Roberts school came up with a way of visualizing how this might look.

Visualizing Deep Questions
Visualizing Deep Questions

It was vitally important to us not to dismiss scaffolding questions to only focus on deeper questions, however. While answers to scaffolding questions are often fact-based, easy found online on in other effortlessly accessible resources like books and the like, they are critical in providing base information for answering, exploring, exposing deeper questions. They often led the way on an inquiry journey guided by deeper, critical questions and ultimately deeper thinking & exploration.

And this is where we have left things for the most part.

As of late, the Division has shifted it’s priorities towards innovation, Maker Spaces and STEAM focussed education. Arguably this is not necessarily a huge departure from a creationist, inquiry focused, question driven philosophy; rather, it seems a nature evolution.

This got me thinking about the status of the questioning process we have in place and whether it needed tweaking as well. Does it help teacher and students in an innovation, maker space, or STEAM setting? I am reasonable certain that in STEAM/Maker Space classroom the process, given time, will work. After all, an inquiry class and a STEAM class are really not that dissimilar. But how does it apply to an innovative school for example.

I kept searching online for inspiration, for something new. I found lots of innovation questions or prompts:

  • What could I look at in a new way?
  • What could I use in a new way?
  • What could I recontextualize in space or time?
  • What could I connect in a new way?
  • What could I change, in terms of design or performance?
  • What could I create that is truly new?

It would seem that question creation remains a process of exploration, a process of discovery, a process of creation. One thing did occur to me as I thought about Blooms , questions, innovation and the maker movement and that was word CREATION. It might be time to invert Blooms and thing of Creation first out of the box….

Blooms Flipped
Blooms Flipped

Perhaps we need to think about making question the same way we go about making meaning.

We explore artifacts, we discuss, we think, we share, we collaborate, we muck about and get messy, we sort and categorize, we set criteria and check against that criteria to see that we’re on track…

Albert Einstein once said,

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”

That perhaps is the right idea.


I just went on Twitter and came across this Tweet from my colleague Shauna Cornwall stressing the importance of two simple question frames to be used regularly even in primary classrooms. It’s never too early too start!

Such important questions to “frame” all that you do with your gr2 Ss @smacpenner #winnipegSD

What and Why?
What and Why?

Binary Bracelets

Photo by christiaan_008 -
Photo by christiaan_008 –

As I was browsing Twitter today, I stumbled upon a colleague’s @eppertdanielle post during this week’s ‘Hour of Code’ celebrations:

Binary Bracelets
Binary Bracelets
Binary Bracelets

Ss learned about binary and created bracelets using binary code #winnipegsd #WSDsteam #HourOfCode

I looked at this activity and I thought, how incredibly clever. It’s about binary code! It’s about 1 & 0, On and Off switches just like in the millions of transistors states within the chips of a computer! How awesome an idea is this, so foreign & yet still so connected!

Problem Solving in Binary; Planning the bracelets
Problem Solving

Binary Bracelets

First off, there is plenty of evidence of the Four C’s at work:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
4 Cs: Above & Beyond
Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking , Creativity

But there is also connection to math systems. Binary is base 2. Our current number system is base 10. There is an opportunity to compare and contrast the number systems or at least play the conversion game between the two. One could show students that place value is not limited to base ten, and that there is a difference between numbers and numerals!

Helping Eachother Decode Bracelets
Collaborative Skills
Collaborative Skills

Finally, this activity uses the concept of binary to illustrate how a computer encodes
data that will be stored and then decoded and retrieved for use later. It highlights the idea of opposites (i.e. up/down, on /off) that can substitute for the stereotypical ones and zeros.

While there are versions of this activity on the Net associated with, Danielle has done a great job of implementing her wrinkle furthering her student’s understanding the underpinnings of coding!

Coding a new Literacy Superpower

10 Reasons to Code
10 Reasons to Code

Coding in December has become the thing to do now that Hour of Code has begun sweeping the nation, and this is a very good thing!

But is it being explicitly taught or better yet infused in other curricular areas in most schools? That’s a question worth examining in some detail. My experience tells me that it is not. And I wonder why this is so. As I reflect on this, I wonder if it is because the value & flexibility of coding is undervalued! Also that coding is seen as somehow a mystical, magical beast that will be incredibly difficult to learn and even harder to bring to students in a meaningful way.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Coding is seen as something that is cool and engaging by almost all students. And while “cool” is nice, what really matters are the lasting benefits of building a coding skill set:

  • Logical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Persistence
  • Collaboration
  • Communication

These skills should look familiar… Shauna Cornwell in her latest monthly Eyes on Innovation November 2015 refers to Michael Fullan’s 4 Cs and 6 Cs…


4 Cs: Above & Beyond
Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking , Creativity


Other educators, particularly in the older grades look to this model from Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1) – The 6 c’s of Deeper Learning when having conversations with students around 21st century learning.

Let’s look at this another way… The 3 of the 5 reasons outlined below are potent ones that fit into cluster 0, critical thinking, inquiry, design process structures used throughout the Division and Province. With very little tweaking a programming, coding process can be added into these processes easily as I will show later in the article.

Why Code in Education Infographic

It would seem that reasons for coding in education are easily enough defended from a pedagogical point of view. The reasons listed above are well supported in theory and practice! So there is no reasons not to try coding. Except how does one start the process? It seems daunting. This is the logical next step to explore…

How does a teacher start the process of coding?

Online Coding Offerings: the tip of the icebergCoding has a lot to offer in terms of getting kids thinking, problem solving and collaborating. It can be infused in math, science, ELA and any other subject with relative ease. There are an increasing number of ways to get this done. Edutopia has an excellent article entitle 15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer). And these are just the tip of the coding iceberg.

Hour Of Code and are the hot-beds of all things coding in terms of getting started and getting students hyped up about coding.

This is where I would start my journey in learning about coding and helping younger students learning about coding.

Options Galore

However, the Hour of Code is just a starting point. When you and your students are ready for more, there are tremendous resources all over the Internet to explore. Keep in mind some of these are for profit organizations and have a cost attached.

There are a growing number of iPad, Tablet & Web-based (see already listed above) apps that promote coding as well. These apps often have their own support sites or online conduits or information sharing services.

Here are some more Advanced tools for those that want to delve deeper still…

A colleague of mine stumbled upon this link to a listing of grade level applications for coding. While I am not convinced that all the apps are truly locked into the grade levels suggested, they are generally targeted at the right age levels. For the sake of having the listing I am including the linked resource. Grade Level Coding Apps and Resources

Coding Processes

Example of Building Coding Process into Existing Design Process
I thought It might also be useful to talk briefly about a process to use for coding. There are many constructivist based processes like the design or inquiry processes that would serve as a starting place for a coding process. I would suggest adding only a few wrinkles to flesh out, otherwise solid, processes that have proven their worth in then educational realm. Below is an example of how a design process can be modified in three simple ways to make it more suitable for a coding process. This can be accomplished with whatever thinking or design process you happen to be comfortable with.

Girls and Coding

One final consideration before leaving you to begin your coding venture is that of gender balance…. The gender gap in the computer science industry is astonishing. Women today represent only 18% of all computer science graduates. In 1984, women were 37%. Encourage girls and young women to get started with coding using these inspiring programs.

Coding and Robotics

This is not a post that I wrote. But it’s an important one all the same. Chris Kennedy over at Culture of Yes composed this and I am quoting it here… The original article can be found here.

It is always interesting to visit schools and pick up on the trends. One can often see ideas that are spreading from one class or one school and quickly to all schools. One of the challenges in a district position is trying to capture the growing areas, and help support them to grow even further – looking at questions around how do we expand these great opportunities to not just some students in some schools but more students in more schools.

Much of the discussion in British Columbia is currently dominated by the refreshed curriculum. While there are conversations that start about the content – what is the stuff being covered in each subject and each grade, these conversations are often moving to the pedagogy and assessment needed as part of this process. And when we look deeper at the differences, I see the greatest shift over the last two years is likely in the work around Aboriginal education. As I have written here different times in different ways, we see Aboriginal understandings across grades and subjects.

I am always curious to see the words and ideas that are growing. It was from individual classrooms and schools that ideas around self-regulation, inquiry and digital access have exploded. I have also written before about the growth of outdoor learning among other trends that are taking hold. It is sometimes hard to track their growth – it comes from students, teachers, parents and the community and when they stick – they become the new normal.

The two ideas this fall that I would add to the list and I think are just beginning to blossom are coding and robotics. When I look at the growth plans of staff, or the inquiry questions of our Innovation teams, or listen to the interests of parents, these ideas are coming up more and more.

Coding is not new, and it is part of the ICT 9–12 curriculum. In part driven by the global Hour of Code initiative, there are efforts to expose all students to the possibilities around coding not just those who select it as a secondary school elective. More and more we are hearing from students, teachers and parents that we want to engage younger learners with these skills. Cari Wilson has done a wonderful job leading the Hour of Code initiative in our district – getting into elementary and secondary classrooms. Given the Star Wars theme this year I am sure students in classrooms and at kitchen tables across our community will be engaging with coding.


The Hour of Code Starwars Edition

It was interesting to read recently that there may be a “significant decline” in IT literacy in our tablet / smartphone era. Given the seemingly continued importance of these skills, projects like Hour of Code may be even more important. And we are trying to figure out how to move beyond this initial exposure and build in regular opportunities for young people with a passion for this type of learning in their elementary years to engage with activities as part of their school program.

Robotics has a somewhat similar story.

I had the chance to visit several schools in Delhi, India two years ago. And in one particular school, in a community of immense poverty, where the power went out three times while we visited, and nobody reacted as that was typical, where there were sparse resources, there were students building robots. It was stunning what I saw … .


Robotics Building Collaboration
Robotics Collaboration


Students were working together building robots. As the Principal reported, this is the future.

Fast forward ahead to this fall, and I am seeing the same curiosity and excitement around robotics in our schools. We have had a number of staff working with robotics over the last several years. It really has been a natural progression from makerspaces, digital access and trying to connect students in relevant ways to our world. This fall Todd Ablett, a past winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence joined our district and he has begun to infect (in a good way) our district with his passion for mechatronics and robotics. For now he is running a club at West Vancouver Secondary and doing guest lessons with every grade 6 and 7 classroom in the district. The plan is to continue to grow the program – hopefully into a secondary school Academy Program next fall, and a grade 6/7 program. As I watched student-built robots shoot balls across the Board Room at last week’s Board Meeting as everyone in the Gallery took out their phones to record the moment – one could feel the excitement.



The structures are a work in progress but we have an unwavering commitment to ensuring our schools are relevant and connected to the world our kids are participating in – the world that I heard Todd describe where self-driving cars are just the beginning of what the future may hold. I often wince when asked “what’s new” in our school district. The truth is most of what we are doing is about going deeper and getting better at what we already do. We are also trying to keep our eyes open and look around the corner at what is coming next. If you want to look for two things I think you will hear about and see far more in 2018 than you do in 2015 – I think coding and robotics are good bets.

Hour of Code Fast Approaching

Hour Of Code

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. One-hour tutorials are available in over 40 languages. No experience needed. Ages 4 to 104.

This is an amazingly inspiring event that has motivated thousand to try coding and programming on for size. There is a growing bed of research that has indicated that coding is anew and fast imaging literacy that will benefit student in many ways.

I would cite the growing number of sites devoted to teaching youth about coding as one indicator that is happening in earnest:

Hour Of Code

Why Not Join Winnipeg School Division in the Hour of Code? Contact Keith Strachan if you are interested in participating!