ApplianceRepairman.ca scam: How to get your money back

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Dear Reader,

I sincerely hope that you’re not here because you have fallen victim to ApplianceRepairman.ca. But if you are, there is hope. I was able to get most of my money back within a week by following the steps as outlined below.

If you have not heard of this company before, let me fill you in. They operate in the GTA (Toronto), Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa. They have another website, Appliance-Repair-man.ca that operates in Guelph, Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge. They are based in Concord, Ontario (89 Connie Crescent, L4K 1L3) and owned and/or operated by Dan Vidoser and/or Chen Kochavi.

This is how they operate:

  1. They charge $80 to send a technician.
  2. The technician will look for a minute at your broken appliance and then state that in order for him to get a proper diagnosis of the problem, he will have to open up the machine and that this is considered labour so you will be charged extra for it.
  3. He will draw up a contract/waiver for you to sign outlining the “labour” charges and the cost for each. This is what mine was, for a broken washing machine:
  • Watering system: $112
  • Mainboard/Timer: $98
  • Safety system: $70
  • Total: $280 (Bizarrely, this is the total that is calculated with every complaint I have read about, no matter what the appliance)

4. He will tell you that he will deduct the $80 initial fee if you give him the go ahead to service the machine. You do the mental math and think “$280 – 80 = $200. Worth it to get my machine working again”. You sign the waiver.

5. He spends about 10 minutes doing something with the machine (Not sure what. Mental note: always watch what your repairman does) then comes out of the laundry room and states that you need to buy a replacement part at an exorbitant cost (ex. $408.88 for a latch and lock assembly which is $97.33 online). Oh, there will be labour fees on top of that.

6. When you balk, he claims that he warned you beforehand about additional costs and you shouldn’t have signed the waiver if you weren’t willing to spend more money to get it fixed. And that collections services will come after you if you don’t pay what you owe right now ($280).

7. At this point, you will pause and wonder “Is this guy a scammer? But he seems nice! Well, it’s a lot of money, but I guess this is how most companies operate (NOTE: It’s not). Plus, I did sign the waiver so I’ll do what decent people do and honour the contract”. You give him your credit card (P.S. big mistake) and he rings it through. If you’re really unlucky, he will have convinced you to order the “needed” part, too. (Thankfully, I didn’t, but retrospectively, I should have told him to take a hike and sent him away with no payment whatsoever.)

8. He leaves. You are $316.40 dollars poorer and your machine still doesn’t work. You go online and your stomach sinks when you start to read the abysmal reviews and articles written about this company:

As of today:

  1. Homestars: 502 negative reviews, .6/10 rating (that’s less than 1/10 btw)
  2. Better Business Bureau: “F” rating
  3. Ellen Roseman/Toronto Star article
  4. TrustPilot reviews: 28 reviews, 100% bad
  5. ApplianceRepairGuys.org: 35 bad reviews (Same company, different name)
  6. SiteJabber: 10 reviews, all bad
  7. Google reviews: 102 bad reviews (google “ApplianceRepairman.ca reviews”, scroll down to the right, click “View all Google Reviews”

OMG, you think. I got hosed. Big time. How do I get my money back? You call your bank right away. They tell you there’s nothing they can do. You call the company and they tell you the technician honoured the contract you signed, so, sorry. They might offer you a $35 refund if you call more than once.

I decided to follow the advice found on ApplianceRepairGuys.org, a website set up by another victim of this company. He suggested filing a consumer complaint with Consumer Protection Ontario. Wisely, the crooks at ApplianceRepairman.ca will respond once you set the ball in motion here because they do not want to be shut down.

Before filing a complaint you must write a letter to the company. Email the letter to info@appliancerepairman.ca and in the subject line write: Complaint about service done: CONSUMER PROTECTION ONTARIO (this will get their attention). Note that you don’t actually have to file a complaint just yet. Write the letter first and send it off, then wait to see if the company responds. 

In your letter to the company, make sure you describe your intention to file a complaint with Consumer Protection Ontario and outline how much money you want back from them. Also give them a time limit to respond (I gave them 48 hrs but they responded the next day). Click here to read my letter.

The company will state that you must sign a waiver to get your money back which is basically a gag order for legal proceedings (which I will completely ignore if ever asked to testify against them). You can try to insist that you won’t sign it until you get your money back but you won’t be successful. They will tell you that they you will receive a cheque within 15 business days once the waiver is signed but insist that the money be put back on your credit card (not a cheque) instead and tell them they have 24 hrs to reimburse you or you will proceed with your Consumer Protection Ontario complaint. Here is where you need to take a huge leap of faith: You need to give them your credit card number again before they can process the refund. If you prefer, ask them for a mailed cheque, but you risk having to chase them down for it. I gave them my credit card number and received the refund immediately after sending them the signed waiver. I called my bank right away and made sure that the funds had indeed been credited back to my card. Phew, nightmare over.

So there it is. It was 5 days of pure hell, but a lesson well learned. Never again will I let a service person into my house until I do some research on them.

Here are some questions I have left to ponder:

  1. How do the employees at this moralless company sleep at night?
  2. Why does VISA allow this fraudulent company to have a merchant account?
  3. How has this company been allowed to operate for 5 years now?
  4. How many thousands of customers have they ripped off?
  5. Why are victims powerless to shut them down?
  6. Why isn’t Consumer Protection Ontario stepping in to protect Ontario consumers from this company, as they are mandated to do?

I welcome your comments below. Good luck with your efforts to get your money back if you are a victim. Please let me know how it turns out.

PSS: I filed a complaint with Consumer Protection Ontario even though I got my money back and I encourage all victims to do the same. This way the government might finally pay attention to this scam.

I also filed a complaint with the Competition Bureau of Canada. This organization will not help you get your money back but they will help investigate fraudulent companies. Click here to file a complaint.

 

Sketchnoting Cross-Canada Tour

Dear readers,

If you know me, you know how passionate I am about sketchnoting, which is a way to take visual notes.

There are so many benefits to sketchnoting as a creativity tool and as a way to document your learning and observations. Teachers who have started sketchnoting with students report that the practice has transformed their classrooms, as students become more engaged in the process of note-taking, gathering and processing information

I am super excited for the opportunity to share my passion with people across Canada, starting this Monday in Magog, Quebec (just outside of Montreal). I hope that you can join me on one of the stops! Please click here to learn more and to register.

XXOO

Sylvia

 

My trip to New Zealand

Recently I had the good fortune to travel to New Zealand to deliver a keynote and some sketchnoting workshops. I jumped at this opportunity because my youngest daughter, Lauren, lives in Auckland and we were long overdue for a visit. My husband, Steve, also decided to come with me and we met our good Toronto friends Jeff and Doris Plunkett for a few days who were also travelling there. I had been to New Zealand once before, but never had the time to explore it properly. This time, we had 10 days in Kiwiland, and I turned to my daughter for advice since she had already toured NZ in her van. She said that we should focus on the South Island because that’s where all the great hikes are. So we did, and boy, was she right!

 


Reunion with Lauren in Queenstown

3. Queenstown

Queenstown

4. Queenstown Airbnb

Queenstown Airbnb

Day 1: We landed in Queenstown and immediately we were overwhelmed with the beauty of the green, rolling hills covered with sheep that we could see from the plane. Everywhere you looked, it seemed like a picture postcard. We were there in our spring which was their fall, so we were able to enjoy the spectacular fall colours. We picked up our car rental then drove to our Airbnb which had a stunning view of the harbour and was a five-minute walk into town. Queenstown is adorable, with many shops, bars and restaurants and a nice, flat hike around the harbour. We had tapas and cocktails at a cozy bar called Eichardt’s Bar which is attached to the luxurious Eichardts Hotel. A great spot for breakfast is the Bathhouse Cafe, right on the water.

Bathhouse cafe

Day 2: We hiked around Lake Hayes which is a short drive from Queenstown and is an easy, flat hike around a lake as still as a mirror.

 

After the hike we visited Arrowtown, a quaint village with shops and restaurants and with trees that seemed at the peak of fall colours. We had a delicious meal at SlowCuts Restaurant.

 

Arrowtown

Day 3: A stunning ½ hour drive along ice-blue Lake Wakatipu took to us to Glenorchy where we did an easy hike with a gorgeous view of the lake. At the top we found an abandoned mine with old tracks that seemed to drop at the edge of a cliff.

 

Glenorchy

Day 4: We left Queenstown and had breakfast in Wanaka Town, another beautiful small town on Lake Wanaka. We picked up some groceries, then headed to Roy’s Peak for the hike of a lifetime. It took us 2hrs45 to climb up and another 2 hours to climb down. The uphill climb was relentless, and if it wasn’t for Lauren cheering me on, I don’t think I would have made it. But boy, was it worth the view!

 

Later that day we arrived at our next Airbnb in Twizel, a tiny town 22 km from our Airbnb. It was one of the most enchanting Airbnb’s I have ever stayed at, in the middle of an 11,000 acre sheep and cattle farm, on the edge of a lake with Aoraki Mount Cook in the background.

 

 

Steve cooked us a delicious lamb dinner while Lauren and I went for a walk down to the lake. With a wood stove keeping us warm inside the house, we pulled out our books after dinner and decided that we could be happy staying here for a long time, but alas, we could only stay for one night. Early the next morning our hostess showed up with freshly laid eggs, bread and milk and we had a yummy breakfast.

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Our Airbnb hostess, Sonja.

Day 5: We drove up to Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand.

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Lake Tekapo, en route to Christchurch (Yes, the water really is this blue!)

The hike at Mount Cook was nice and easy, a flat walk up to the base of the mountain and back, with a view of some tiny icebergs which had broken from the glacier above.

 

Mount Cook
Later that evening we arrived in Christchurch and I had a chance to finally meet Arnika MacPhail who is the vivacious organizer of the Cyclone Energise Conference.

 

 

With Arnika MacPhail, Rob Smith, Louka Parry, Jordan Priestley, and Gerry MacManus who drove me to the airport in his super-cool Austin mini! (Read his blogpost about the conference here.)

Day 6: At the end of the conference today Emma Scott, who attended my sketchnote sessions, surprised me with a wonderful sketchnote of my keynote: “Why Creativity Matters”. Yes, this is her first sketchnote. I know, c-r-a-z-y good! She blogged about the conference here: Day 1 and Day 2. Another teacher I was looking forward to meeting was Rachel Chisnall, having “met” her on Twitter previously. You can read her blogpost about the conference here (scroll down to read about my keynote).

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Sketchnote by Emma Scott

I met so many wonderful, energetic teachers at this conference, who were keen to learn about new methods to engage their students and were so much fun! We danced, made paper airplanes and drew cartoons during my keynote. A huge thank you to Cyclone for inviting me!

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This is my “Mihi”: The Maori way to introduce oneself. Many thanks to Arnika and Sylvia Fidow for helping me with the pronunciation! Click here for a translation.

Day 7: We flew from Christchurch to Blenhelm in a tiny 9 seater plane. Unfortunately, it was nighttime, so we were not able to see much during the short flight.

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We met a tour guide/driver, Joe Kelly, at the Blenhelm airport who drove us 30 minutes to Picton and we arranged for him to take us for a wine tour the following day. When we woke up in our Airbnb  the following morning, we gasped at the beautiful view of Picton harbour and the mountains beyond.

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Day 8: Unfortunately, the rained the entire time we were in Picton, but it was fine for the wine tour. We visited 3 vineyards and stopped for a snack at the last one. It was wonderful having Joe as our tour-guide giving us a personal view of the area since he has lived in Marlborough his entire life.

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Day 9: We took a 2 ½ hour ferry from Picton to Wellington but sadly, the skies were gray and rainy so we were not able to see much. Our Airbnb in Wellington was beautiful, but a little out of town so we Ubered back and forth to get a taste of Wellington city life. It looked lovely but we couldn’t really see much because of the rainy weather. We did discover a great cocktail bar called “The Library” with live music, and we had an amazing meal at Mr. Go’s. Also, an amazing breakfast place near the Airbnb called “Scorch-o-rama” right on the water’s edge.

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Wellington Airbnb

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The Library cocktail bar in Wellington

Day 10: We flew from Wellington to Auckland for our final destination. We stayed at the Grand Mercure Hotel, a boutique hotel right in Auckland Harbour. We wandered around the harbour and had oysters and drinks at Dr. Rudi’s Rooftop Bar overlooking the harbour.

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Lauren then took us to two of her favourite neighbourhoods: K’Road and Ponsonby. Later in the evening we discovered a really cool whisky bar called “The Jefferson”, and then we had one of the best meals of the trip at an Italian restaurant calledAmano near our hotel.

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“The Jefferson Bar”, Auckland

Day 11: On our last day in Auckland I delivered a day long sketchnoting workshop for administrators and staff at Te Whānau o Waipareira, a government sponsored agency for the Maori community. I was moved to tears at the end when a Moari elder blessed a jade necklace and placed it around my neck.

 

Papa Rangi greeting me the Maori way: nose-to-nose, “Sharing the breath of life”.

Everyone in the in the room said a Maori prayer in unison and then sang a Maori song. I wish I could understand what they were saying, but their warmth, hospitality and national pride shone through the music and lyrics. Thanks you so much to Jo Nicholson for inviting me and to the entire Te Whanou o Waipareira community for making me feel so welcome. What a wonderful way to cap off my whirlwind trip through New Zealand and to solidify my commitment to come back to this beautiful country for a prolonged visit.

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The staff at Te Whānau o Waipareira

Yes, dear readers, New Zealand is as beautiful as all of the pictures you have ever seen. In fact, it is even more beautiful than you can imagine. Our daughter Lauren might never leave and I don’t blame her. Its unspoiled, pristine beauty, majestic mountains, epic hikes, friendly people and tremendous respect for the Maori culture makes it a must-see destination for everyone. Put it on your bucket list! Click here for a list of useful Maori words and expressions. Click here for a complete photo album of our trip. 

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Bitmoji Appsmash

Do you love Bitmojis? How about Bitmojis that talk? Follow the instructions below to learn how, and please share any videos you and your students make in the comments below!

Et en français:

Project: “Some Things I love”

Made on the iPad

Apps:

iMovie

Bitmoji

Notes

DoInk Green Screen

iFunFace (Pro – to avoid ads)

Directions:

  1. Open the Bitmoji app, create an account, and design your avatar. Make sure that you don’t choose any green clothing.
  2. Add the Bitmoji keyboard: Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard > Bitmoji
  3. There is no way to search for a Bitmoji in the app itself, so you need to use Notes. Open Notes and create a new folder called “Bitmoji”.
  4. Tap pencil icon to start a new note.
  5. Tap and hold the globe icon (bottom left hand corner of your keyboard) and scroll up to Bitmoji. Now you can search Bitmojis.
  6. Search “Love” and tap a Bitmoji for your opening shot.
  7. Paste Bitmoji on Note.
  8. Tap on the Bitmoji in the Note, then tap on share button (top right hand corner) > Save image.
  9. Find an image for the background of your title page (Safari/Chrome > search image > press and hold > Save Image).
  10. Open Green screen by Doink (You might have to change your keyboard back to English to search for the app. Tap and hold on the globe icon then scroll up to English). Tap plus sign top right hand corner > Create a new project > Tap on the bottom layer > (Plus sign) > Image >  Recently Added > Tap background image > Use.
  11. Tap middle layer  > Plus sign > Image >  Find Bitmoji image on camera roll > Use.
  12. Adjust Bitmoji by squeezing in and moving around.
  13. Tap “Save” (make sure it’s on IMAGE not VIDEO) > Share/upload button > Save image > OK > Done. (Please go to #18 now if this is your second image).
  14. Open iMovie and tap on the large + sign to start a new project > Movie > Tap Create Movie (at the bottom) > Photos > All/Recently added > Tap Bitmoji Green Screen image you just saved on your camera roll.
  15. Turn off Ken Burns effect: Tap image on timeline > In viewer, tap “Ken Burns Enabled” so that it changes to “Ken Burns Disabled” > Position the image to where you want it.
  16. Add a Title: Tap the large T below. Choose a style (tap “Lower” so that it’s not covering your Bitmoji) and title your movie “Some Things I love, by your name” ou “Quelques choses que j’aime beaucoup par __________”.
  17. Tap the image in your timeline > microphone (on left) > Record (Record your voice reading out the title and your name). Tap the image and drag handle in the front so that the clip is the same length your voice recording.
  18. Open Notes > Done > Pencil icon > tap and hold globe icon to scroll to Bitmoji keyboard and search for “Hello”. Choose a Bitmoji and follow steps #7 to #13 above, keeping in mind that the next image you want to find as a background is one of the city you live in so that you can say “Hi. My name is _________________ and I live in ____________”/”Bonjour, je m’appelle ______________ et j’habite _______________________.”
  19. Open iFunFace Pro > Start > Albums > Moments > Image (choose “Hi” Bitmoji with background image you just created in Greenscreen Doink app) .
  20. (Crop Image) > OK > Reverse pinch if you want to crop > Next
  21. Create new head > Current image.
  22. (Identify head) > OK
  23. Put finger on head until you colour all of the head in with red.
  24. Tap “Preview” to see the head bobbing. > Next
  25. (Position Mouth) > OK > Place the blue dots on the corners of the mouth, the middle middle dot on the teeth, the bottom blue dot underneath the chin. > Preview Mouth > Next.
  26. (Place head) OK. You can make the head larger or smaller. I recommend leaving it as is. Tap Preview if you want to see it > Next.
  27. (Create as Image or Video?) > Record Voice > Microphone (Record) 
  28. After you give permission to your microphone, it will start recording right away. Say “Hi. My name is __________ and I’m from ____________ ”. Tap square to stop. Play video to see if you like it. If you want to re-record your voice, just tap the microphone again.
  29. You can change the timber of your voice by tapping the “Voice effect” icon, bottom left hand corner. Robot is the deepest, squirrel is the highest.
  30. Tap “Share” icon and save video to camera roll.
  31. Re-open iMovie > Moments > Tap recent video > + sign to add to timeline.
  32. Continue in this fashion, adding more videos to your iMovie project about the things you love to do. (Bitmoji keyboard > Search Bitmoji > Paste in Notes > Save on Camera Roll > Add to Doink Green Screen with background > Save image > Create iFunFace video > add to iMovie)
  33. Add music and share your video!

(Many thanks to @JoeDale for introducing me to iFunFace!)

Script:

  1. Some of the Things That I Love To Do, by __________________.
  2. Hi. My name is __________________ and here are some of the things that I love to do.
  3. I love _______________________ because/especially ____________________.
  4. (Continue this way to end).

En Français:

  1. Quelques Choses que J’aime Faire, par __________________.
  2. Bonjour. Je m’appelle ________________ et voice quelques choses que j’aime faire.
  3. J’aime beaucoup _____________________ parce que/surtout ___________________.
  4. (Continue this way to end).

 

Apple “Clips”

“Clips” is a relatively new, free iOS app which brings video creation to another level. You can import images and videos, then add special effects like filters, labels, stickers, and even emojis. There are cool animated graphics and transitions and a special voice-to-text feature that turns into a rolling scroll on your screen. You can add your own music, or choose from 70 different free soundtracks in the app. With Clips, you and your students can create fun, engaging, and memorable videos like never before! Below is a video I created as an idea for your students to share a little about their homes and neighbourhoods. (Alternatively, they could do a school tour with the same idea.) Or, click here for a quick student video called “My favourite things”.

Here’s a quick tutorial:

Here’s an example I made about my neighbourhood:

Click here for a step-by-step document tutorial for a project “All About Me”.

Here are some tips and tricks I learned through much trial and error.

  1. You can take photos/videos within the Clips app, or use your camera app and upload to Clips later. (I recommend recording the videos in the Clip app because then you can use the voice to rolling text feature.)
  2. If you want to use the Voice to text option, you need tap the photo/video on your timeline, then tap “Live titles”.
  3. If you use the Clips app to take photos/videos, I recommend saving the clips to your camera roll in case you delete it by mistake (tap on clip in timeline, then tap “Save Clip”.)
  4. All media has to be at least 1 second long.
  5. Videos you take within the Clips app automatically go into your timeline, but not photos. To add a photo to your project, you need to hold the pink button down. This is called “Recording the photo”. (You can also adjust the duration of the photo by tapping “Trim”.) Note that you need to record a photo for at least one second before it will insert into your timeline.
  6. Videos that you import from your library have to be “recorded” into your timeline like you do for photos. (However, you will not be able to hear the original audio of the video while you are recording it. You will be able to hear it after you finish recording). Note also that you will not be able to use the Live Titles option with videos imported from your library.
  7. You cannot add a voiceover to a photo or video after you have added it to your timeline. So you will have to delete the clip and add it again. To be safe, tap clip, then “Save clip” (you might have to scroll to the right to find it) then tap the clip in your timeline and tap garbage can > Delete clip > Done. Now tap Library > Tap your media and hold pink button to record your voice and put the clip back in your timeline. (NOTE: If you want to delete the original sound on a video, tap “Mute” > Mute original video.) Drag your media to the spot you want it to go in your timeline.
  8. If you don’t want to keep your finger on the pink button while you’re recording, swipe up until it turns into a square then tap the square when you’re done.
  9. Make sure to add an effect to a clip before you record your voice. If you add it after, you may lose it, and you will have to add it again.
  10. To add text, tap the star (effects) button > Labels > Choose a label and tap on it to edit it.
  11. Make sure to tap the “Done” button whenever you add/change something or you will lose your changes.
  12. If you want to splice a video to delete, say, the middle of it, make sure it’s on your camera roll (tap “save clip” if you shot the video from the app)> Library > tap video > start recording (tap and hold pink button) > take finger off record button and push the video line to the left in the viewer to where you want the video to continue. Tap and hold pink button again.
  13. There are no time-lapse or slo-mo options within the app. You must use the camera app, then import into your project.
  14. To make a label disappear and then add another label on the same video clip or photo (like I did in my house tour video above), there are a few ways to do this. 1) You can record the video/photo live in the app, pausing the recording each time to add a label and then recommencing the recording. 2) You can record the video/photo live in the app, pausing where you want a label to go, continue the recording and pause again where you want a label to go, etc. You can add the labels later since you have sectioned your video/photo by stopping and starting the recording. 3) You can add labels to a video/photo you have already taken but only if you import the clip from your library so make sure it’s saved there if it’s not already (see #7 above). Now: Library > choose clip. Start recording your video/photo then stop recording and add your first label. Continue recording and stop recording, delete the label, and add another label, and continue recording until you get to the end of the clip.(Thanks Bethany Nugent for helping me with that tip!) Unfortunately, you will not be able to hear the audio when you record video this way (but you will be able to hear it after). Note also that when you import media from your camera roll, it automatically goes at the end of your timeline. So when you add sequential labels like this, you end up with multiple clips which you then need to drag, individually, onto your timeline where you want them (it’s a pain).
  15. To duplicate a clip, tap and hold on the clip in the viewer (large screen), tap “Copy” then “Done”, then tap and hold the viewer again > then paste. Remember, you have to tap the pink button to record the photo to add to your timeline. You will find the duplicated clip at the end of your timeline. Tap and drag it to where you want it to go.
  16. You can zoom into a photo or video while you are recording to your timeline by using a reverse-pinch gesture on the viewer. Use the record-lock feature (#6 above) to make this easier to do while recording. You can also pan across a photo this way.
  17. Note that some of the music clips are short and may end sooner than your video, then loop up again which may result in an awkward silent moment in the middle of your video. If this is the case, search around for a music clip that is longer to match the length of your video. Note also that you cannot alter the volume of the music clip. However, the music automatically ducks so that you can hear the audio of the original video.

Do you have any “Clips” tips and tricks to add? Please add them with a comment below. Have fun with “Clips”!

Sylvia

 

From Moscow With Love

 

My eyes fill up with tears as I say goodbye to Anna who is also crying. We clasp hands and promise to stay in touch: she, inviting me to her family home by the Black Sea: me, inviting her to Toronto for a Canadian experience. We hug and reluctantly let each other go. As I walk through the doors I turn around and we give each other a final wave, smiling and blowing kisses.

me and anna

(My beautiful and gracious guide, Anna Komarovaaa)

Five days ago we met for the first time when I landed at the Moscow airport. She was assigned to be my “guide” to help me navigate Moscow and to be my translator for the duration of my stay. I was invited to the Moscow Global Forum to present a session on Sketchnoting, along with 47 other international speakers.

It was the trip of the lifetime. I fell in love with Moscow; its culture and its people, and I made many new international connections and friends. As I sit at the Moscow airport ready to board my flight home, I reflect on how magical this Russian experience was.

Moscow-photo-Vladimir-Fofanov-sxc-hu-e1341297054443

(Photo credit Vladimir Fofanov)

  1. The city

Moscow is, beyond a doubt, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. There is breathtaking architecture, huge boulevards, many statues and parks, the Moskva River which winds its way through the city, the magnificent Moscow Kremlin and Red Square, and many charming pedestrian-only cobblestones streets like the famous Arbat Street.

Calle-Old-Arbat-en-Moscu

(Image source)

I was astonished with the vastness of the streets, buildings and monuments. The Russians clearly like to do things in a big way!

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(Statue of Vladimir the Great)

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(Russian State Library)

I was also struck with the cleanliness of the city. Early in the morning an army of cleaners descend on the streets, picking up garbage and sweeping by hand every piece of garbage in sight.

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(Street cleaners arriving in the early morning)

The morning after I arrived, I went for a long walk along the Moskva River all the way to the famous Gorky Park.

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The city is great for walking, with many underground tunnels that go under the wide boulevards which allows for the traffic to flow more freely throughout the city. Even so, the traffic jams in Moscow are epic and I was surprised to see so few cyclists. I saw a beautiful bicycle path along the river, but in general there seems to be a shortage of bicycle paths in the city. However, the subway system is one of the best in the world, with 200 stations bringing millions of Muscovites in and out of the city every day.

subway2. The food

Russian food includes much smoked fish and meat, fresh vegetables and fruit, hearty bread and delicious cheeses. I particularly like the traditional dishes like borscht, dumplings, and caviar with pancakes and sour cream. The Russians serve many courses in a formal meal and we had to learn to pace ourselves so as to leave room for all of the courses. Our hosts told us that in Russia, it is considered polite to leave food on your plate because it indicates to your host that they served a sufficient amount of food. This was certainly not a problem for us as every meal we were served was humongous! (Click here to learn more about food etiquette in Russia.)

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3. The conference

The inaugural Moscow Global Forum was one of the best organized conferences I have ever attended, with 20,000 delegates. The highlight of for me was participating in a Question and Answer session where we were able to share our areas of expertise with the audience in  mini-sessions of 10 minutes. The moderator had prepared many excellent questions to keep the discussion moving at a fast pace. These sessions gave us a chance to get to know the other presenters and to ask them questions about their outstanding work. Another highlight for me was getting to meet Luis Von Ahn (creator of Recaptcha and Duolingo) after his keynote. Read more here about his brilliant idea to help digitize books through crowd-sourcing the word recognition feature in Recaptcha.

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4. The excursions

Our hosts treated us like royalty as soon as we arrived in Moscow, greeting us at the airport and organizing and accompanying us on many excursions during our stay. We were each assigned a personal guide to facilitate our trip and to make us feel welcome in Moscow. These guides were delightful young students or recent graduates who were hired for the conference.

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My first excursion was to School No. 627. I had missed seeing the full school day in action but was able to visit the after school program: small classes engaged in various after school activities. It was a happy, welcoming atmosphere and the students were excited to try out their English on me.

 

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Over the next two days our group had two walking tours: one of central Moscow and the other one of The Kremlin. It was obvious that our guides had tremendous pride in their city and they were extremely knowledgeable about the history of Moscow, spanning 870 years. The information was a little overwhelming, but I was glad to learn about the many wars, fires, and religious and political transformations the city has been through.

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The Moscow Fire of 1812 (Image source)

There is a vast number of museums in Moscow. We visited the Tretyakov Gallery to see an astonishing collection of Russian masterpieces spanning several centuries. I was particularly taken by the story behind “The Unequal Marriage” by Vasili Pukirev. Click here to read more.

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One of my favourite excursions was the glamorous dinner cruise on the Moscva River. The food was exquisite and seemed to never end (I counted 9 courses!) accompanied by a live band that played traditional Russian music.

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(Image source)

Our final dinner was at the Carlson Restaurant, one of Moscow’s finest eating establishments. We were treated to another multi-course feast of mouth-watering food, wine, and Russian vodka. We rolled out of there, busting out of our seams and marvelling at the vast quantity of food served at every meal.

5. Moscow’s birthday celebration

Our visit to Moscow coincided with a celebration its 870th birthday. On the weekend there were many live performances on huge stages set up around the city.

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(Image source)

The police, security guards and army presence was significant and buses were set up at the ends of busy streets to prevent terrorist attacks. All citizens had to go through security screens before entering the city centre. 

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The security forces were very thorough and it was obvious that they took their jobs very seriously as they rarely cracked a smile. The civilians seemed to take this all in stride, but even our guides said that they had never seen this level of security for an event in Moscow before.

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I was impressed with the level of organization and coordination required set up all the checkpoints which reinforced my sense that Russians have a highly developed command system and infra-structure to pull off security in this grand scale.

Moscow has a population of 12 million and it seemed to me like most were in the city Saturday night. By the time we got back to our hotel (the Ritz-Carlton), we were a little frazzled so a night-cap on the roof-top terrace seemed in order.  Sipping on Moscow Mules while watching a magnificent display of fireworks was just what we needed to end the night in a magical way.

6. The people

I love connecting with other educators on social media, but there’s nothing like face-to-face interactions during conferences to have those deeper levels conversations about important issues in our profession and to get to know each other on a personal level. The international presenters were a diverse community, representing 20 different countries, cutting across many different types of educational institutions. It was fascinating to compare notes about the similarities and differences between our school cultures and to exchange ideas. I was in awe of the passion that each educator displayed towards their students’ well-being and their commitment to creating inclusive school communities. Throughout the afore-mentioned boat cruise, many toasts were made by the presenters and hosts and the overriding theme was the importance of communication, collaboration and idea-sharing. But above all, there was a unified call for world peace.

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7. The hosts

It’s hard to accurately describe the extent of the hospitality that our hosts extended towards us. When Anna first greeted me at the airport and ushered me into a private car, I knew that that this was going to be a special experience. Throughout the 5 days I was there, Anna barely left my side. She was like a mother hen, always making sure that I knew where to go and that I was in time for my next appointment. All of the other presenters I talked to said that their guides were equally lovely and conscientious.

On our last day in Moscow after the Kremlin tour some presenters and I decided to go for a walk around the city. To our immense surprise and delight, our hosts asked to join us, even off-duty! Later in the day we had a delicious dinner at the famous Ukrainian restaurant, Tarus Bulba, (across from the magnificent Russian State Library) and were again regaled with live music.

Over dinner that night, our hosts explained to us the strong sense of hospitality that Russians have. They described how even families who do not have many luxuries will forego feeding themselves so that their guests can have the very best of what they can offer. Our hosts embodied this sensibility along with a fierce sense of pride of their history, culture and country. Their warmth, sense of humour, compassion and generosity reached into our hearts and took hold. We will never forget our new friends and we will be forever grateful to them for making us feel so special.

(A huge спасибо to the organizers of the International Presenters program: Diana Obukhova and Nastya Ivanova. This event could not have happened without their tireless efforts!)

(Click here to learn some basic Russian words.)

 

How to convert grades into percentages in the New Google Forms Quiz

I love the quiz feature in the new Google Forms because you can format it to allow your students to see their marks right away. However, the mark does not appear as a percentage, instead it appears only as number of correct answers, for example: 16/25. As a teacher, sometimes you need to convert that result into a percentage.

I am not a Google Sheets person, so I turned to my super geeky and talented friend, Jen Giffen for some help. Here is her solution:

  1. Insert two blank columns to the right of your marks.

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  1. In the first blank column in row 2, type =left(

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  1. Click the first mark in column B. B2 will automatically appear (or whatever cell number the first mark is in)

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  1. Type ,2) then hit Enter

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  1.  The original mark will appear in the C column. Now click on the D column.

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  1. Type = then tap the mark in the B column.

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  1. Type / and the total your quiz is out of, then tap the % symbol

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  1. You will now get a percentage in column D.

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9. To complete all percentage conversions, drag down the bottom right corner of Column C.

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  1. Now do the same for Column D

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  1. NOTE: If you try to cut and paste these percentages on a new spreadsheet, you will get this:

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  1. So you need to use “Paste special” then “Paste values only”.

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THANKS, JEN!!!