Learning How to Sew (week three)

It was extremely difficult for me to dedicate time to my major project this week.  My work had me traveling for a few days, I had a day full of parent-teacher-student conferences in addition to a wedding that consumed my entire weekend.  As a result, my sewing machine was left idle the entire week.  Not to be deterred, I thought new skills could still be learned by bringing with me, on the road, the sewing kit my mother gifted me when I left for University in 2003 and see what I could learn in my hotel room.

I decided to start by  exploring the contents of my old sewing kit:

Next I found a YouTube video that explained how to accomplish various hand stitching techniques.  I picked a few to try, here are my results:

Through this small experience in the time I had, I learned a few things.

  • Hand stitching is difficult!
  • Keeping even spacing by hand makes you appreciate a sewing machine.
  • Making tight stiches requires much precision and patience.
  • Thread can even be tangled when hand stitching!
  • The thimble is a fantastic tool that saves your fingers.

Despite the little time I had this week, I tried to maximize the situation I had.  I’m pretty happy with the new hand stitching techniques I have learned.  I’ve gained comfort in knowing that in a pinch, I can always use the old needle and thread.  It felt good manipulating the fabric and the needle with my hands as opposed to a machine.  Feeling the tension in the thread with my hands and feeling the resistance of the needle pulling through the fabric made me more fully appreciate the wonder of modern sewing machines.  It has also allowed me to better understand the mechanics of stitching and the situations in which each type of stitch has its advantages and its disadvantages.

Does anyone know what this thing is and what its purpose is?IMG_5588


With Open Education Comes Hope

Teaching in a francophone school in Saskatchewan, finding good resources that meet the needs of my students is extremely difficult.  In most cases, teachers in the same situation as me, resort to investing large amounts of time developing resources for the specific context in which we teach.  On occasion, resources can be found from other provinces and other francophone regions of the world, however, Fransaskois teachers spend significant energy trying to adapt and modify these resources to meet the needs of their students.

Capture d’écran, le 2019-10-27 à 22.32.02

Given that our schools are very small and geographically dispersed across the province, I’ve never had the opportunity for collaborate with other French science teachers in my school.  In the 12 years that I have taught, I’ve always been the only science teacher in my school and efforts to collaborate on developing resources between the science teachers within the division has always fallen short.   Our workload always seems to be too large and the technological tools for collaboration have never been effective to the point of being practical.  As a result, all the science teachers in my division have mostly worked in isolated silos.  Perhaps we could all get ideas to more effectively share like Chris elaborates in his blog.

The idea of open education is very appealing to a teacher in my situation.  As a result of initiatives like Wikipedia and the Kahn Academy that are producing and sharing larger amounts of French resources, my life as a teacher is becoming increasingly manageable.  These open platforms offer quality materials that I can use on a daily basis.  An open education initiative to which I contributed was the development of the French language version of the Computer Science 20 course developed by Dan Shellenberg.

Capture d’écran, le 2019-10-27 à 22.14.32

As a result of this collaboration with the ministry of education, all students in Saskatchewan have access to a fully developed course including most materials for free.  This opens the possibility for more students to take the course and allows for a larger proportion of teachers to teach the course.  As mentioned in the video on Why Open Education Matters, an investment like this gives opportunities to almost all students and teachers to have success regardless of their social or economic realities.

As I watched Larry Lessigs Ted Talk on the Laws that choke creativity, I’m reminded of my daily struggle with copyright protection and the protection of many forms of content online.  Given that no French textbook will ever be created for the Saskatchewan science curricula that I teach, I’ve accumulated dozens of print resources from Quebec, Ontario, British Colombia, Manitoba, Alberta and even France for each class.  As a result, only a few pages and sometime a few chapters in each book is directly useable.  What I’m I to do as a teacher?  I cannot justify purchasing 30 examples of each textbook for which I only use one or two chapters in my pedagogy.  The price would be exorbitant for my school and each of my students would have a dozen textbooks each of which they only use a small percentage.  As a result, I try to make my own recreations of most of the content I consult and sparingly photocopy only the essential piece to distribute to my students.  Hopefully, as open education gains wider acceptance and propagates further in other languages, this reality will be a thing of the past.

So many great educational videos can be found on Youtube and, more recently, on other platforms like Facebook and Instagram.  Given the ever-changing nature of these platforms and their policies related to protecting their content, I have great difficulty archiving resources from these plarform for offline educational purposes.  Although there exist many workarounds and third-party tools to download and archive videos and animations from said platforms, the friction involved in accomplishing this task often results in failure and frustration.  If only these platforms could migrate their policies related to user generated content towards a default that encourages their release under a creative commons license or something similar.  If that were to happen, content could potentially be freed for download.


As Ben Sullins mentions on his Telsanomics Youtube Channel: “If you free the data, the mind will follow”.  As the Internet matures, I find the sharing of information and the freeing of data is become in vogue.  I feel optimistic that much like the Open Source initiative in computer software championed Bruce Perens, educational material is following much the same path.  Great open resources are being released from many of the best educational institutions in the world from places like MIT and BCcampus.  As a result of initiatives like these, education is becoming democratized and new opportunities for discovery and learning are appearing.  The success of autodidacts like the famous Jeri Ellsworth could become more common given they have the tools like open education to thrive.

Learning How to Sew (week two)

Following my initial adventures in sewing from last week, I felt enough comfort in using a sewing machine that it was time for my first real project.  After a bit of searching the internet, I decided to take a shot at this Zipper Pencil Pouch Sewing Tutorial by Amy at Positively Splendid.  By completing this project, I was aiming to accomplish these specific goals.

  • Gain experience with measuring and cutting fabric.
  • Incorporate my first zipper in a project.
  • Practice fabric and seam alignment.
  • Practice stitching with consistent seam allowances.

My first task was to find all the materials needed for the project.  A quick stop at Fabricland allowed me to pick up zippers for my project.  I wanted at least two in case I made a mistake with my first one.  Seeing they had a deal for three, it gave me peace of mind knowing that I had the opportunity to make at least to really bad mistakes without having to go back for more supplies.  (On a side note, I think this notion of expecting mistakes and gaining comfort in acknowledging that they will happen is very important when learning new things.  I often work with students that are risk averse and are afraid to make mistakes in their learning process.  This makes learning more arduous and can result in high levels of anxiety.  Establishing an environment where students can take risks and feel comfortable in taking them is one of the priorities I have as a teacher. I feel it’s an important part in my learning environment.)

Once all my materials were gathered, I proceeded to cut the necessary pieces using a cutting mat, a cutting wheel and a straight edge.  I learned that it’s much easier to cut freshly pressed fabric than wrinkled fabric.  From now on, I shall press all my fabric before I start working with it.

Photo 1

With everything cut, I proceeded with my first stitches and everything worked great.  This was going to be a breeze!  (Little did I know it was not going to be so easy.)

Photo 2

After sewing the first side of my zipper, I installed my second paned and pined it into place.  I learned that pins are a fantastic technology that really helps in keeping my fabric aligned and properly positioned.  From now on, I will not hesitate to pin things in place.

Photo 3

Boom!  My first mistake.  I sewed my second panel, that I has taken so much care to align and pin, facing the wrong way.  The finished side had to be face down as opposed to face up.  With much shame, I had to ask my wife for the seam ripper which, with an evil smile gladly handed to me.  Luckily this setback only took a few minutes to address, but I had to make sure I paid more attention to the instructions provided by the tutorial I was following.

Photo 4

Great success! The zipper is installed!

Photo 5

Epic fail!  When I started applying the finishing stich on either side of the zipper, my initial stitch on the left side went well although I had sewed-in a small wrinkle at the top.  I gave myself a pass and turned my attention to the right side.  I don’t know what happened, but something in the machine jammed, my piece wasn’t feeding through the machine, everything bunched up and got tangled.  This mess was so bad that even the trusty seam ripper couldn’t fix it.

Photo 6

Lesson learned, if something unexpected happens, STOP!  Evaluating the situation, I decided to press on and keep this mess as a reminder that I’m a beginner and that there is always room for improvement.  As I started regaining momentum and stitching more panels together, something didn’t look right so I STOPPED!  (Hey, I’m a quick learner!)  Upon further investigation, it was obvious that I had ran out of thread on my bobbin.

Photo 7

I had two new skills to acquire if I wanted to finish my project, transfer new thread to my bobbin and thread the sewing machine.  The trusty manual I had printed last week came in handy and guided me through the first task quite well.  Achievement unlocked!

Photo 8

Threading the machine went just as well and after making a few test stitches on a scrap piece of fabric, I was back in business!  The last few stitches were made and after a quick inside out flip, my glorious creation presented itself to me!

Overall, I’m quite pleased with my first creation and it really works as a pencil case!  Time to take things to the next level and undertake something a bit bigger and a bit more complex.  Lessons were learned and I’m sure more lessons will present themselves in the future, but I have to admit there is always a lot of satisfaction in seeing a finished product.  I achieved all of my goals for this phase of my learning project and even learned a few new tricks of the trade.

Learning How to Sew (Week One)

This week’s objectives in learning how to sew were the following:

  • Get a work area setup.
  • Get acquainted with my sewing machine and learn the basics in how it works.
  • Cut some pieces of fabric in shapes with straight edges and some with curves.
  • Practice sewing in straight lines and in curves.
  • Practice my spacing.
  • Verify and adjust my machine for the quality of my stitching.
  • Test different stitching patterns.

Setup of a workstation was simple, I didn’t want to interfere with my wife’s sewing station, therefore I took a temporary folding table and installed it in a corner of my basement.

Sewing Station

I ran a power cord and installed my old 1970’s vintage Singer Fashion Mate 252.  Although old, this machine is robust and simple, two attributes that bode well for a beginner with my level of skill.

Singer 252

In order to have a good reference for the workings of the machine, I searched the Internet for the user’s manual and to my surprise, singer provided the PDF to its original manual right on their website.  It’s great to see a company care and support its products so well.

Singer website

To my amazement, I found the manual to be a fantastic beginning resource to not only learn the machine but also learn how to sew!  The manual includes fantastic illustrations and simple to follow step by step instructions to guide you into properly using the machine and also learn the basics of sewing.  I love the hand drawn illustrations; they provide a great visual support to the instructions and they really add to the easy of learning.

Singer manual

Once having threaded the machine, it was time to do my first stitches.  To accomplish this, I used small pieces of paper that I fed through the machine.  The contract, the flatness and the rigidity of the paper make those first stitches easy due to not having to worry about alignment of cloth and its stretchy properties.

Stitching practice

I tried to sew straight lines and made small adjustments to the machine as I went.  I even tried a zigzag stitch!  These first few lines of stitching allowed me to comprehend the feel of the machine but learning how it was going to react to my inputs.  I gained the feel of the pedal and was able to register in my mind the corrects sounds and the movements this machine normally makes.  I then preceded with cutting a few pieces of cotton the sew them together for form a simple rudimentary pocket.  This allowed me to practice sewing along a curve and allowed me to gain the feeling of sewing actual cloth.  I took my time, and everything went well.  The results are, to me, satisfactory.

Here is a vlog that summarizes my journey so far.

Screencasts Open Up A New Dimension to Teaching

Finding and exploring new digital tools can often be a challenge.  The learning curve associated with deciphering how to use a new application can often mean a significant amount of time is spent before any meaningful and useable things come out.  I find it a rare occurrence to come across game changing applications that revolutionize or completely transform how I work in my personal or professional life.  However, with new applications appearing on a daily basis, I find it frequent that I find applications that remove just enough friction in my digital life it’s worthwhile to adopt given the increase in efficiency to my work.

In an attempt to make some of my teaching practice more visual, I decided to explore the Google Chrome extension called Screencastify.  Being weary of my privacy, I initially was disappointed to see that I had to login with a Google account.  Although I’m aware that free applications monetize your information, I find it a big pill to swallow to have the ability to use a simple screen-casting application.  If it weren’t for this assignment, I wouldn’t have proceeded with the installation purely on the principal of privacy.


The next window that appeared was once again a bit disconcerting.  Due to having logged in with my work email, the language changed to French.  This didn’t bother me, however the quality of the French displayed in this window is so poorly translated that I’m left wondering if the interface will be comprehendible.  I’ve often encountered translated applications that were so poorly translated that it made them extremely difficult and frustrating to use.  For me, as I work exclusively in French, this is a very important feature that can be a deal breaker.


Once authorized, permissions must be set for the application to access the camera and microphone built into the computer.  This is reasonable considering the nature of screencasts.  Once again, giving access to such fundamental hardware on my computer to the Chrome browser is unnerving as it expands my risk vectors for online security and privacy.  How can I be assured that my video and audio is not going to directly to the Google advertisement machine?  I guess I’ll have to assume that proper encryption is used by Google and my information will be protected.


Once the initial setup is complete, you are greeted with a much-appreciated tutorial video that goes through the important points in how to use the application.  This is fantastic as it improves the learning curve and allows me to more quickly get to using the application.


Once I got everything running and made a few test screencasts, I prepared the following screencast to give a tour of the software and elaborate on its advantages and disadvantages.

Even though Screencastify is far from being the ideal screencasting tool available on the market, I think this Chrome extension, or others like it, could prove useful in many aspects of my teaching practice.  As part of my robotics class, many of the things I must teach have to be accomplished on the computer.  A screencasting tool is perfect to record tutorials on how to use software and how to accomplish specific tasks within those pieces of software.  As an example, in the unit on 3D modeling, I could use screencasts to introduce the software as well as explain many of the functionalities within it.  I could assign some of these video tutorials as homework in order to preserve in person class time to actual 3D modeling and helping the students solve problems related to their assignments.   This could increase the pace of the class without introducing significant amounts of stress.  In addition, once these videos are completed, they could be used in the years to come resulting in freeing more of my time to prepare even better course materials.

Students could also use a tool like Screecastify to share their work, their challenges and their successes to their classmates as well as me, the teacher.  In one example, we could flip the classroom and ask each student to learn a new digital skill and share with their classmates this new skill using a screencast.  I recognize this would require a computer and internet access for all students and thus situations where there exists a digital divide might prove to be challenging.

Alternatives to Screencastify exist and one must weigh the pros and the cons of each type of application in order to choose the right one for you.  In his blog, Matteo recommends Screencast-O-Matic.  I suggest you watch his review to see if it works better than Screencastify in your situation.

Overall, I see the large potential of such an application and how it could be an effective collaborative tool on many levels.  Not all students are comfortable recording themselves or presenting in front of others.  In the context of oral presentations, the intimacy of using a computer and not presenting in person in front of one’s peers, screencasts could be a solution to this challenge for many students.

How would you use screencasts in your classroom?

Sink or Swim, Time to Jump In

Having been a teacher for over 12 years, my perception of my role as a teacher has changed in many ways.  If the first few years, I viewed myself as conduit of information to that had to be channeled effectively to my students.  Today, I view my job as a teacher as a curator of information and a guide to assist my students in interpreting and navigating the ocean of knowledge the internet has to offer.  With my guidance and the structures, I provide within my classroom, I hope my students learn the skills and the abilities that will prove critical once they leave the confines of school and enter their adult lives.  It’s my hope that they use these skills to navigate life and make good decisions based on good values and good logic.  As Brown and Adler mention in their article, Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Trail, and Learning 2.0:

The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.

By controlling the environment in our classes where our students develop, we as teachers can influence, in a calculated manner, how students are learning.  There is no sense in competing with the quantity and quality of the information the internet can provide; however, we can influence and teach our students how to manage these strong sources of information so that they can be properly interpreted and processed.  This is the type of social learning that can be achieved through the use of social media in the classroom.  By providing a safe environment where students can make mistakes and takes risks, we can guide them in being responsible digital citizens.

In the recent past, it was possible to live in two separate worlds, the online world and the real world.  The ever-connected nature of our modern society creates a situation where people are now, more than ever, forced to integrate their digital lives with their real world lives.  The online world is now the real world and the real world is more than ever online.  We as a society have moved the majority of our social conversations to the internet and this is where we must concentrate our efforts in helping our students.

Like Michael Wesch postulates in his TEDxKC talk, we must help people in their transition from being knowledgeable to being knowledge-able.  With instant access to information, students have to gain the ability to not only contextualize and be critical of the information that flows on a daily basis, they must also gain the ability to act on the knowledge they have in concrete and positive ways.  The integration of social media into our classrooms represents, to me, a way to foster Wesch’s idea of knowledge-ability in our students.

With social media and its ability to open the classroom to the world, concerns related to privacy and safety are always the first things that come to my mind.  One of the 21 century literacies that is presented in The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies is:

  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.

Much like Alfed Nobel and his creation of dynamite, all the best intentions in the world will not always lead to positive and productive use of such technology.  As we have seen in the past decade, the weaponization of information though the spreading of fake news and the dissemination of pseudo-scientific misinformation can cause real harm to a society.  Much like the use of propaganda in the last century, the control of information can guide society to very dark places.  With large companies like Google and Amazon recording, studying and modeling our every move online, my information is being commoditized and sold.  Although I’d like to think I’m just another number in an infinitely large database across multiple servers in hundreds of locations across the world, I’m convinced the Internet I see might not be the Internet others see due to companies like Google personalizing my portal to the web.


(Source: http://ngecacit.com/ARFiles/BP-portal-more.htm)

Our students have to navigate this world, and as soon as they log onto the Internet at a very young age, their electronic profile is already being built.  The idea that a large corporation owns so much information on so many individuals is starting to spark many political conversations across the world.  In the European Union, the Right to be Forgotten has provided a mechanism for a person to erase their online profile.  This leads me to believe we should have a similar mechanism everywhere in the world as this might allow kids to live their online childhoods not having to worry that if they make a mistake as a 13-year-old, it will not haunt them for the rest of their lives.   Another interesting regulation from the EU, which has its pros and cons, is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which aims “to give control to individuals over their personal data”.  With all of these initiatives, I have a bit of hope that someday control of our data will come back to the individual.

Building resilience and “knowledge-ability” in our students can be a daunting task.  It is one that I personally don’t feel like I’m well tooled to address as of today.  Gradually, I’m gaining confidence in the possibilities of social media in my educational practice.  I know my pessimism is getting the best of me at the moment and I acknowledge the many fantastic things social networks can bring to the lives of students.  I need to leave this zone of stagnation and take more risks as a teacher, more specifically in the world of using social media in my classroom.  How can I expect my students to learn the skills I hope they acquire without me being good digital citizenship that they can observe?  How do I take the plunge without having the fear of drowning in the deep end of the SAMR model?  (Thanks Brooke for bringing this version to my attention via Twitter!)