Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear Caroline, Dear Sigmund

Last week, the annual Forest of Reading Festival of Trees celebrated at Harbourfront in Toronto. My school was there, as usual, enjoying the events and hobnobbing with awesome authors. During the Red Maple ceremony, nominated author Caroline Pignat told the crowd to write to their favourite authors, to let them know how their books made an impact. I think this is just as important for adult readers to do, although I suspect we do it less often than our younger counterparts. I used to do it a lot when I first started writing my blog years and years ago. It's time for another fan-girl moment, and so for today's post, I'll write two public letters to two authors.

The 2015 Red Maple Awards Ceremony

Dear Caroline Pignat,

You probably won't remember me, although you recently made my day by following me on Twitter. Way back in 2009, I was your "caretaker" at the Festival of Trees when your book, Egghead, was a Red Maple nominee. It is oddly comforting to discover that an author can be just as delightful and enjoyable company as the words he or she produces, and I found that to be true in your case when we first met. However, I wanted to write you and thank you, not for that past experience, but for your most recent book, Unspeakable. This book took me in directions I never expected. When I first started reading it, I thought, "Okay, this is just like the movie Titanic ... star-crossed lovers, tragic shipwreck, yadda yadda." Despite my cynicism that I'd "seen this before", I was still engaged by the description of life aboard a cruise ship. Just when I thought the story was done, it propelled me into a completely different tangent. Ellie's sullen disposition made so much more sense - she was not just a rich brat, but a woman with terrible losses and great determination. Jim wasn't just a handsome, brooding, YA hero - he wrestled with personal demons that stretched beyond the shipwreck. Ellie's relationship with the journalist, Wyatt Steele, kept me guessing, but I was so happy to see that in the end, women and men can be just friends. It was a sweet victory to see how her aunt's writing was more valuable and powerful than even her land and manor, and that it benefited Ellie and Wyatt - life doesn't always reward the deserving and punish the wrongdoers, but it felt so satisfying to see it happen in the final pages of the novel. I know that my students enjoyed the book just as much as I did, so thank you very much for writing such an engaging story.


Diana Maliszewski

Kevin Sylvester MCd this year's Red Maple ceremony

Dear Sigmund Brouwer,

You've written a lot of books. As a teacher-librarian, I've read a lot of books. There are only a few where they are so good that I have to put them down. That sentence may not make a lot of sense. What I mean is that there are times where the plot is so intense, that I'm afraid to see what happens next and I have to stop reading to calm myself down and get ready for the next chapter. That's what happened to me when I read your recent novel, Dead Man's Switch. The concept had me thinking and predicting, and like King, your protagonist, I kept my fingers crossed that good would prevail, despite the incredible odds against it all working out. I really was torn - should King trust and believe his best friend or his father? The action was non-stop and I admired how clever his computer-savvy friend was to plant so many clues. The postscript with all the possibilities was a creepy counterpoint to the fiction. Thank you so much for writing a book that, not only pre-teens and teens devoured, but the educators that work with those pre-teens and teens can enjoy too.

Yours truly,

Diana Maliszewski

Monday, May 11, 2015

Personalizing the Make School Different Meme


Scott McCloud began it. Doug Peterson curated some of it. Aviva Dunsiger turned it on its head (thanks to Doug's dog).

I was tagged by Deborah McCallum(@Bigideasinedu) and Anita Brooks-Kirkland (@AnitaBK) - It took me a while to remember who tagged me because Twitter ate my notifications from March 10 - April 30. I can recite many things that need to change in education. (Valuing school libraries would be near the top of the list.) However, that won't lead to any changes. The truth hurts, but here goes ...

1) I have to stop pretending that I am organized and tidy.

Actually, I think I was cured of this a number of years ago with a stern comment from my husband:
Just because you buy organizational supplies, that does not make you an organized person.
That stung the first time I heard it, but I've come to accept it. I can coordinate large-school events and magazine deadlines, but there are times when my scheduling isn't up to snuff. I don't mind mess. But others do. Confession - my superintendent commented on the rather chaotic-looking MakerSpace corner in the library to my principal on her last walk-through. I cleaned it up at the principal's urging, but it hasn't stayed that way. Organization is a valued learning skill on our report cards. I can't just shrug my shoulders and say "Oh well, I'm just a messy person; I can't help it." That wouldn't be good modeling to the students. I have to reserve time to sort through papers on my desk and put objects back where they belong. I don't enjoy it but it's necessary. I need to do that digitally too - place all my Google documents in specific folders so I don't rely on searching my email for references to items I seek. Yvonne recommended it at the ETFO ICT Conference, and I should follow up with that helpful hint.

2&3) I have to stop pretending that I evaluate assignments in a timely fashion and modify lessons effectively for my special education and English Language Learner students.

These two items were my Annual Learning Plan goals and I deliberately made them the focus of my recent Teacher Performance Appraisal, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I did a better job during my observation lesson, but I need to work on this frequently, not just when I'm being watched. I seem to assess quickly and alter tasks appropriately so much better during summer school. Maybe it's because I get caught up in the swirl of committees, clubs, and other responsibilities. Whatever the reason, I must keep those focus students in mind to set them up for success, and not let "busy times" interfere with my weekend marking stints.

4) I have to stop pretending that I don't lose patience with the students.

I was complimented recently by another teacher who said that she never hears me yell or scream at the children. It was kind of her to say, but not that accurate. I do raise my voice, and I get frustrated. I've gotten better at reducing the amount of sarcasm I use. I have what newer teachers call "good classroom management", but I need to remind myself that the students aren't aggravating me on purpose. When I visited Mrs. Butters' HSP class, I admired her positive redirection of student misbehaviour. I have to remember to apologize more often if I'm short in my responses because I'm flustered or overwhelmed.

5) I have to stop pretending that equity education is easy and just about buying the right books.

This one is hard to admit. My Mentor AQ class has brought this issue to the forefront for me, and I thank my classmates and a new book study group formed from a few colleagues from the AQ that have agreed to continue having discussions, for getting me to think about it more. I've been afraid - afraid to do the wrong thing and be labelled a racist. I've been ignorant - until this year, I didn't know what CRRP stood for (and it's Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy, a key concept). I'm taking a few, nervous steps to rectify this. I'm following some people on Twitter, like @RafranzDavis, @RusulAlrubail, and @TheJLV. I'm reading the #educolor conversations, and getting braver about asking questions, even at the risk of making me sound stupid or unenlightened. I'm also taking a hard look at myself, to see how what I say or do perpetuates or dispels stereotypes. Yes, I have purchased great books to represent different cultural, economic, racial and social situations, but that can't be where it ends.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Angels in Average Places

I had a very busy past week. Things don't always go as we plan them, but somehow, there are often unsung heroes around who will help you get out of jams. I wanted to profile a few people who saved my proverbial bacon.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Teacher-Librarian Quadrant Meeting

Francis Ngo

Francis poisoned me and then stabbed me on Monday.

Francis tried to kill me and then saved my life.
Better title?

How about the story itself? Francis Ngo is an amazing teacher-librarian from Pineway Public School. After the teacher-librarian quadrant meeting, which Francis attended and I co-ran, we wanted to reconnect. He came over for dinner and insisted on bringing something to contribute to the meal. He went to a nearby bakery and returned with gourmet cupcakes. I chose to eat the one that he said was "sea salt caramel". Turns out the crumbly things on the top weren't salt chunks, but actually peanuts. I'm allergic. Francis drove me to the nearest hospital. While in the waiting room, my breathing became more shallow and I realized my throat was closing up. Francis injected me with my Epi-Pen. He stayed with me for the now-required four hours of observation to ensure I didn't relapse, and took me to the 24-hour pharmacy to refill my epinephrine prescription. Francis definitely isn't comfortable with the idea of being a hero - because he said he was the one who endangered my life in the first place - but I think he did a phenomenal job of keeping calm and helping me survive.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

GTA Resource Fair

Unnamed Student

I didn't want to name the particular student who saved me tons of hassle and inconvenience because I don't want to embarrass her. I drove six students to the GTA Resource Fair so that they could help me purchase books for our school library collection. When I did this in the fall, I had a student vomit all over the back seats of my car. Unfortunately, to compound the problem back then, the student puked as we were going TO the fair, so I had no supplies to help me clean the mess. That made for a rather unpleasant ride back to school. This time, I advised my passengers to let me know if they were feeling carsick, as I had packed plastic bags "just in case". Thank goodness for willpower and self-control! One of my students, after an hour of stop-and-go traffic on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, asked for a bag and as soon as she received it, violently emptied the contents of her stomach - without spilling a drop in the car! She even tied the bag shut and threw it in the garbage can as soon as we arrived at the CNE. Thank you for being so considerate, even when you weren't feeling your best, "Secret Student".

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

TDSB East Library Learning Commons Showcase


I was supposed to present from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. at this annual marketplace-style event. I forgot that we had a staff meeting at lunch that day, so I left late and arrived even later. The parking lot of Cosburn Middle School was full, so I drove around the unfamiliar neighbourhood and parked on a side street. I carried with me my purse, cloth bag with handouts, two laptops, display board, and my Minecraft Villager costume. To say my hands were full was an understatement. I was disoriented from driving around to find a spot for my car, and I got lost. I walked past East York Collegiate Institute and several students checked their phones to give me directions. I walked and walked, but couldn't take more than about ten steps before I had to stop to pick up a dropped bag and my hands were quivering with fatigue. I broke the villager's arm and nose in the bag from dragging it along the ground. I didn't have my cell phone because I left it at home, so I couldn't phone for help. I felt helpless, exhausted and alone. Then, a lovely older woman on a bike stopped and said, "You look like you could use some help. Can I help you?"
"Yesssss", I answered in a burst of tears. There I was, bawling on the sidewalk just a block from the school, feeling utterly defeated, and this wonderful person locked up her bicycle and helped me carry my awkward, bulky load into the school. I asked her name, thanked her profusely, and gave her a hug. She said, "Don't worry. I know you'll do a great presentation." It was 2:00 p.m. - I had wandered the streets of East York for about 45 minutes. The wonderful teacher-librarian of Cosburn Middle School, Kate Tuff, actually drove me to my car after the event. I was only three blocks away but I walked in the wrong direction and it was more like twelve blocks that I strayed. I'm sorry I missed a huge chunk of the soiree, but I'm so grateful for strangers willing to help a pathetic overburdened individual.

Tears wiped away - smiles at the TDSB LLR Showcase

Thursday, April 30, 2015

TDSB East Silver Birch Quiz Bowl

Jackie, Ann, Salma, Vicki, Janice, Kim, Keri, Rita, Siobhan, and some other forgotten names

Any hospital visits this time? Any tears of frustration? No, but when you bring ten schools together for an author visit and friendly reading competition, there are bound to be challenges, and this great group of volunteers pulled together to make the event a success. My Grade 5-6 teacher, who had been looking forward to this activity for weeks, got terribly sick (and she actually had to go to the hospital, so ignore the first sentence of this paragraph; it turns out there WAS a hospital visit as part of this story). The devoted teacher actually sent via email the questions she volunteered to create, but she couldn't complete the quiz for one of the books because she couldn't get her hands on the specific title beforehand. Enter the wonderful Jackie Burrell. She and I sat in a corner of the gym and quickly flipped through the book and created the required content. The teacher-librarian from Alexander Stirling P.S. also became terribly ill, and two staff members at her school volunteered to bring the group of students on TTC to the competition. Thank you for pinch-hitting! All of these great grownups did things like supervised students at lunch, wrote questions to ask the competitors, kept score, watched the buzzers, collected money for the selling of books written by our visiting author, made change, acted as MC, took photos, ordered lunch, and pulled their weight. The students had a wonderful time and many of them are already planning for next year.

Author Sylvia Taekema at the 2015 Silver Birch Quiz Bowl

Monday, April 27, 2015

More Minecraft TLLP Teaching

A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to work one-on-one with a delightful teacher in my school board for some planning time focused on educational uses of Minecraft. I wrote about the experience on the GamingEdus website. Last week, I was able to return to her school to work alongside her and with her students. We decided to experiment with a student-led inquiry approach. She teaches a HSP class (a special education class, for students who are typically at least two years behind their peers in literacy and numeracy skills). It was a wonderful morning of teaching and learning.

I had the chance to wander around her classroom before the students arrived and I saw many ways that she had already chosen to include Minecraft as part of her assignments. For instance, when she was absent on a previous day, she left some non-fiction reading (procedural writing) on how to draw a creeper, and the students enthusiastically read and followed the directions.

Before recess, we focused on numeracy and after recess, we worked on literacy.

Numeracy Lesson

The Student Prompt = The students logged on to the GamingEdus Multi-School Server and walked through their school portal to their Minecraft region. They showed me the houses they had built. I was fascinated that one of the students had made a pointed roof.

The Lesson Summary = We explored the question of roof shapes. I wondered which would be faster to build in Minecraft - a flat roof or a triangular roof. We set up the parameters (e.g. how high, long and wide would our creations have to be) and timed ourselves as we built. We then discussed our hypoetheses, the results, and why in real life roofs are more likely to be slanted instead of flat. The co-teacher tied the discussion in to real life with connections to their school roof leaks and the Elliot Lake mall collapse.

Curriculum Ties

  • Mathematics > Measurement (Time, Length, Width, Height)
  • Mathematics > Geometry (3D Shapes)
  • Science > Structures
Successes & Challenges = It was very difficult for the students to pop back and forth from the game to the class discussion. We turned the laptops around so that students wouldn't be distracted when we planned before the building contest, or reflected after the building contest, but some got frustrated because they wanted to "play" more than talk or plan. Their teacher gave them an excellent pep talk about the need to demonstrate to other teachers and administrators that Minecraft isn't just about playing when we do it in school, but about playing and learning. My hypothesis that the flat roof would take a shorter amount of time to build was trounced by 50% of the class, who built the triangular prism faster. We suspect that external factors (like taking time to decorate the flat roof dwelling with torches and flowers) impacted the results.

Peaked roof or flat roof? Which is "better"?

Literacy Lesson

The Student Prompt = One of the students had written an amazing short story set in Minecraft. The incredible part of her story was that the point of view was of a creeper. 

The Lesson Summary = The student read her story to the class and I gave some descriptive feedback (focusing more on praise than on corrections and changes). We talked about the point of view of the story and I mentioned how it reminded me of a Minecraft parody song. We played the video "A Creeper Like You" and we discussed topics such as effective and poignant words, inferences from the music video, and what constitutes a parody. 

Curriculum Ties
  • Language > Oral Communication
  • Language > Media Literacy
  • Language > Reading
  • Visual Arts > Reflecting, Responding, Analyzing 
Successes & Challenges = This lesson seemed to be even more successful than the earlier one. The students were very focused on the Minecraft video and were able to tap into their background knowledge to help them understand parodies. I greatly admired how Mrs. Butters was able to positively redirect one student, who had a LOT to say, to take an energy break, so that a quieter student could have the opportunity to share his thoughts uninterrupted. After the students left for lunch, she remarked that one student gave his lengthiest answer ever during that class discussion. Mrs. Butters also did a fantastic job of capturing the student observations and comments using her interactive white board. 

Minecraft short story with a twist!
Teaching that incorporates Minecraft (or any student interest) can also JUST be good teaching. I learned a lot working with Mrs. Butters and we learn so much from each other that we will schedule another meeting so that she can come to my school and see my students in action. I can't wait!

Monday, April 20, 2015

ETFO ICT Conference Reflections

This past Friday and Saturday (April 17-18, 2015), I had the honour of presenting and attending the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario Technology conference. I've been part of OTF (Ontario Teachers' Federation) webinars and summer institutes before, but I can't remember being part of one of their conferences previously. It was AMAZING, easily one of the best-run and most organized conferences I've been to in ages. This is a record of my learning, so that others who didn't get a chance to go get an idea of what was there.

ETFO ICT Conference

Friday, April 17, 2015 - 10:30 a.m. 

Embracing Technology Safely & OSAPAC: Free Resources

Summary = It's not about avoiding technology; it's about using it safely. ETFO staff members outlined the 5 key areas teachers should consider carefully, when using technology with students. (Using personal devices / student privacy / health and safety / boundary issues / equity principles). They provided examples of cases where "the train went off the tracks" and recommendations on best practices to take.  

3 Key Points:
  1. "Teachers make bad systems work". Jerry (one of the ETFO staff members) strongly urged us not to use our personal devices to take & store photos & videos of our students and use school tools instead. Intent can be misunderstood. Devices can be confiscated if allegations occur. Be careful!
  2. Respect student privacy by taking photos of work, hands, and the backs of heads instead of faces. Ask them if you can post/share their work. (This was particularly relevant because of the recent #iwishmyteacherknew flurry on Twitter & Rafranz Davis' view.)
  3. Identifying risks are not as easy as it used to be when we'd preview filmstrips. Do your best.

So What? Now What? = I loved their use of Poll Everything and Today's Meet (in addition to Twitter) to capture the thoughts of the audience. I should consider using this with staff during PD. This was a great session because it changed my perspective of the union's policies on technology use - I used to think they were too negative and alarmist, but they are actually rational and reasonable. My own biggest challenge is to remove photos and videos from my iPhone. I am going to have to ask some advice on how to handle my yearbook responsibilities - I usually design the yearbook at home on my personal computer, with the school photos on my hard drive for ease of access. I need to rethink that. I also need to have a serious conversation with some of my staff members. Although I happily tweeted out that I'm proud of my school for respecting privacy by taking work/hand shots, not everyone does. I need to strongly urge them to focus on work instead of faces. 

Photo Evidence:

Friday, April 17, 2015 - 1:00 p.m.

Mining for Learning: Minecraft in the School

Summary = (taken from ETFO ICT flyer) Minecraft is a sandbox game that can be used in a variety of ways to support and enrich the curriculum. Through game-based learning, using Minecraft, we have been able to support students who achieve differently, as well as support social development and digital citizenship. Through playing this game, students have been intrinsically motivated to develop learning skills and have used the experience to independently make connections to different areas of the curriculum

3 Key Points:
  1. Minecraft is a sandbox game, a video game not originally designed for education but with great potential for school use.
  2. You can use it on iPads, computers (PC or Mac), or on Xbox and you must buy accounts to play but accounts are a one-time-only cost. (Students can use their own purchased accounts, but remember equity - not everyone can afford to buy their own.)
  3. Students of all ages can find Minecraft appealing and there are many ways to interact with the game.

So What? Now What? = This was the session that Denise, Jen, and I ran. The evaluations will let us know how the audience felt about the talk. We tried hard to use the comments from the last ETFO session Denise and Jen led and differentiated the session based on the survey we conducted at the beginning. Even though it meant we deviated heavily from the slides, I hope that it meant the participants got something out of the hour. 

Photo Evidence:

Denise Colby (L) and Jen Apgar (R)

Denise talks to the group.

Meeting the audience's needs first.

Friday, April 17, 2015 - 2:15 p.m.

Rethink Assessment with Google Apps

Summary = (taken from ETFO ICT flyer) The session will focus on the use of technology to help with classroom assessment for, as and of learning. Educators will explore various Google Apps (Docs, Spreadsheets, Forms and Presentations) that help organize the assessment of their students’ learning. Educators will also learn how Google Classroom and Drive are used to help with organizing classroom assessment. From anecdotals to summative and formative assessments, get rid of those binders and endless sticky notes!

3 Key Points:
  1. Colour code your folders in Google Drive to help with organization, and use the Groups function to allow different documents to be shared with individual students (or small groups).
  2. Google Form assessments cannot be designed on an iPhone / tablet but can be used on them, which is perfect for quick teacher evaluation of student skills.
  3. Google Spreadsheets can use the condition option to colour code results for easy reflection (i.e. to see who is struggling with a certain concept) and can also create drop-down fill items.

So What? Now What? = I was really distracted during this session because I misplaced my cell phone AND my laptop battery died as I was taking notes. I also entered the session thinking that, as a regular GAFE user, I wasn't going to learn much. I love being proven wrong! Yvonne was very generous with her resources, sharing many files that we can easily alter and use right away. The cell functions were extremely helpful.

Photo Evidence:

Yvonne, Session B presenter, & Denise

Friday, April 17, 2015 - 3:30 p.m.

Digging Deep into the Explain Everything App

Summary = (taken from the ETFO ICT flyer) The Explain Everything App on the iPad is a great way to explore student learning and understanding and unleash student voice. Participants will gain a deeper understanding of how this App can be used to engage students. Examples of how to integrate the App will be shared.

3 Key Points:
  1. Explain Everything does cost money to use but Holly Powell sees it as a versatile and useful tool that makes your learning visible with audio commentary.
  2. SMART Board users will find the Explain Everything Toolbar easy to use because the icons and tasks they do are similar.
  3. Remember to save your work, as unlike other software, it doesn't automatically save and shared iPads might equal lost work and disappointed students.

So What? Now What? = I really like how Holly presented. She didn't try to force the sale of Explain Everything. She offered the participants different ways to explore the app - by watching her on the big screen, individually, or with small groups. She even acknowledged us as adult learners by stating that, as the end session of the day, she wouldn't be offended by "off-task" behaviour (my words, not hers). My school is on a purchasing moratorium, so I didn't buy it, but I did research it compared to other similar tools (like Show Me, something my FDK teachers use). Turns out that Explain Everything is the most highly regarded.

Photo Evidence:

Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 8:30 a.m.

Understanding Digital Citizenship

Summary = (taken from ETFO ICT flyer) Issues such as cyberbullying, sexting and student access to inAppropriate content are important areas of understanding for teachers, administrators, children, adolescents and parents. The presentation will outline many of the important issues that face our schools in an era where access to information is ubiquitous, and digital messages are easily spread. More importantly, the presentation will provide strategies for dealing with and understanding such issues in the positive framework

3 Key Points:
  1. In the 1990s, educators spent a lot of time scaring students with a focus on cyber-safety. This approach, based on fear, control, distrust and uncertainty, does not work for students now, who reach "digital maturity" on average at age 11. 
  2. Intimacy, identity, and creativity are all impacted by our online conduct. It is easy to get around security measures, so in the words of David Wees, (paraphrased), be in favour of internet filters that exist, not on routers, but in students' heads.
  3. Young people have a right "to let childhood be forgotten" but in this digital world, The Web Means the End of Forgetting (Google this article) and we need to try to find new forms of empathy, new ways of defining yourself, and new ways of forgiving others for transgressions captured forever on the Internet (think Justine Saccaro, Star Wars Kid, Amanda Todd, Alex from Target). 

So What? Now What? = Like the GAFE session, I was unsure what new learning I would obtain from this talk. Once again, I found something to embrace. Alec gave me a term for a phenomenon I had seen in my own school: "digital self-harm" (when someone goes online posing as someone else to insult themselves). I also discovered some new areas that I need to be aware of, like Yik Yak and Chat Roulette, because my own students might be using them. (I checked with my daughter - she isn't.) (I also knew some of the others mentioned, like SnapChat, Know Your Meme, etc.) I also realized that I need to have these hard conversations with my students earlier and earlier than I have been doing, about their digital footprints. If I don't, who will?

Photo Evidence:

Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 10:15 a.m.

Introduce Yourself to Minecraft

Summary = (taken from ETFO ICT flyer) In this session, educators will be given the opportunity to try Minecraft: learning how to move, place blocks and other basic commands. Educators will be able to explore a server made for teachers, hosted by Ryerson University’s Edge Lab. On the Ryerson “Professional Play” server, participants will also be able to see builds created by teachers and their students. While you are exploring the different server worlds, you will also see examples of students work, explore lessons and strategies to integrate Minecraft as a teaching tool.

3 Key Points:

  1. Teachers should play the game, so they understand what it's all about and the potential.
  2. Keep your passwords safe so that students don't access school servers unsupervised.
  3. Curriculum connections are only limited by your imagination.

So What? Now What? = We had more than the assigned amount of participants, but we didn't kick anyone out. Jen, Denise and I were kept busy helping out teachers as they learned to walk, fly, build, and more. I love hands-on sessions because we can individualize the instruction and educators can understand the appeal and possibilities. I admired Paul, a gentleman who came into the session not even knowing what Minecraft was, but by the end of the 90 minutes was writing private messages to other players and flying around.

Photo Evidence:

Denise and Jen talk about logging on

Stephanie figured out how to build items taller than her

Leslie & her hubby built a house & even decorated

Paul showed good citizenship online

Valia fed felines in the Cat House

Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 12:30 p.m.

Flipping the Classroom

Summary = (taken from ETFO ICT flyer) Keep hearing the term the ‘flipped classroom’? Spend some time working through the idea of flipping the classroom and use hands-on time to learn how to create effective, educational and entertaining videos for your students to get the most out of your teaching!

So What? Now What? = Confession time. After our Minecraft hands-on session, we had such engaging conversations with Richard, Geoffrey, Paul, and Rob, that the time ate into our lunch. By the time Denise and I dined and filled out our paperwork, we had missed half of the next session. We were going to sneak in but then saw that the only door leading into the room was right next to the presenter speaking. Shame got the better of us, and so we skipped the session. We reflected on how our own sessions went, and my virtual apology to Cameron, the presenter, was accepted.

Photo Evidence:

Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 2:15 p.m.

Movie Making 101

Summary = (taken from ETFO ICT flyer) Participants will learn how to use iMovie on iPads and develop an understanding of how this App can support student learning. Participants will have the opportunity to create a personal example to bring back to their classrooms and become confident in building their students’ knowledge of the App to demonstrate learning across the curriculum. Participants should bring their own iPad to use during the workshop.

So What? Now What? = Sometimes, life gets in the way of learning. I had to be home early to take my family somewhere important, which meant I couldn't stay for this session. This was really unfortunate because Holly Powell was the presenter, and I really enjoyed her Friday session. I had even downloaded the recommended apps already on my personal iPad. 

In conclusion, I had a wonderful time at the ETFO ICT conference. I made some great connections. (e.g. Richard Parker and his student will be writing a column for our GamingEdus website!) I usually don't take photos of my conference evaluations, but I wanted to be accountable for the actions I promise to take as a result of being at this conference.

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Marvelous Mentee

Saturday, April 11 was the last day of my Mentor AQ class. It was a wonderful, learning-filled four months. The agenda for the last two classes consisted of presentations for the Co-Learning with Mentor Collaborative Inquiry projects. I was especially proud of my project because one of my mentees made a special appearance via Skype to give her perspective to the class and share her insights, the only mentee to do so.

Salma & me

Mentee takes centre stage to share her learning
Salma is a wonderful mentee and talented teacher. At the risk of embarrassing her, I wanted to announce to the world (or at least my blog readers) why she is so marvelous and what I learned from working with her.

1) Salma is eager to learn and not afraid to ask questions.

Salma is an LTO (long term occasional teacher). She is the teacher-librarian at a local school. Being a teacher-librarian is not an easy job, especially for new-ish teachers. Salma has a lot of prior experience (with other LTOs and teaching in private schools) but had never taken on this particular role before. She sought to learn as much as possible so she could do the best job for her school, staff, and students. She attended many after-school workshops. Thanks to her awesome vice-principal, we connected early in her LTO contract and she never pretended to be a know-it-all. She wondered, she pondered, and she sought answers. Salma's enthusiasm got me excited, and led me to try something I had never attempted before at my school (i.e. having my students act as "book talk experts" for her students and to have both groups connect using phone, Skype, and Google Docs).

2) Salma collaborates and perseveres.

Salma is the perfect person to have on a team. She is such a hard worker and is also so inviting to work alongside. She recommended some great books for me that I had not heard of before (like Inquiring Minds Learn to Read and Write by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Peggy Jo Wilhelm and Erika Boas). We problem-solved together, made decisions together and conducted our action research together. It was pretty hectic trying to schedule virtual meetings between our students, but Salma would not give up, even though it must have been very frustrating to try and establish contact and have constant interruptions. Her determination encouraged me not to give up, even when the questions my students were asking were not up to par with my expectations.

3) Salma is modest and generous with her time and talents.

Salma has done some pretty incredible things, projects that I never could have imagined when I was a new teacher-librarian. During the Progress Report interview evening, Salma set up a parent workshop for introducing useful tools from the Virtual Library. She ran Read Aloud Tutorials for grandparents and encouraged the use of dual language books and first languages used at home. She organized a local training session for our area teacher-librarians on the new library circulation system. When I rave about her successes, she downplays it. As we prepared for this presentation for my course, she spent a lot of her own time reflecting and sharing answers to the questions, and tinkering with the technology to ensure it worked on Saturday. Since Skype and Google Docs were two of the items we used for inter-school communication, we only thought it suitable to use the same tools when we shared. It wasn't easy. I couldn't hear her on Skype from home, and she allowed me to come over to her house, late on Thursday evening, to video tape our conversation as a back-up plan in case Skype failed. It worked well in the end, but we had a fantastic visit and she even used her artistic skills to apply a henna design to my hand!

Henna art, Thursday evening, prior to flaking

Henna art, Friday afternoon, after dried parts removed

I am really disappointed that Salma won't be able to finish out the school year in her library - the regular teacher-librarian returns at the end of May. I am also really disappointed that she does not yet have a permanent position. Salma is an excellent teacher, not just a teacher-librarian. With less than a month to go, Salma is still doing interesting and educational projects with her students. We are arranging time for our students to meet in person and conduct a "Chat Blitz" to ensure as many students at her school qualify to vote in the Forest of Reading Awards. They'll be attending the local Silver Birch Quiz Bowl competition as well as the Ontario Library Association Festival of Trees. One of my few consolations is the discovery that Salma lives quite close to me, and that in addition to a great mentee, I've gained a wonderful friend that I can be vulnerable and honest with, and can have conversations about professional practice that will benefit both of us. Thank you Salma, for being a wonderful mentee and education partner. I could not have walked this journey without you. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Big Risk in the Restaurant Business!

We did it! My five primary division media classes launched their one-day-only restaurants! Even though I'm sure our sales took a hit in some markets from having five restaurants in a two-week period, the learning we accumulated during that time, and the powerful follow-up conversations we'll have in the near future made it worth it. Here's a summary of each restaurant, with some photos and some key reflections.

Day 1
Monday, March 23, 2015
Sugar Shark (Dessert Restaurant)
Room 117 (Grade 1)

Yes, it was so busy that I didn't even get a chance to take photos! The parent volunteers (Christine & Jovie & Candy) were absolutely wonderful. They baked cookies with small teams of children prior to our grand opening, while a small team worked with me to set up the dine-in area.

Our big goal was to try and replicate an authentic dining experience in a restaurant as close as possible. The first element we had to discard, after this experience, was the dining-in area. We were only able to seat 10 in the area the children chose for their location and it took us an hour to set up, and although it was adorable to hear our hostess check her map and tell customers "I'm sorry but we're full. Can I put you on the waiting list? Or would you like take-out?", it caused a lot of backlog.

The classroom teacher joined us to help the cashiers, thank goodness! The students were engaged and helpful, especially some of our waiters, who played their roles well. Unfortunately, this restaurant made the smallest profit. I'm planning to do some integrated math/media classes to examine why we made such a small amount. I suspect it had to do with all our expenses, from the uniforms to the cookie ingredients. We still have ice cream left over, so we plan on re-opening Sugar Shark to try and increase our sales.

Day 2
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Ms. Singh's Super Good Food (Hamburger Restaurant)
Room 115 (Grade 2)

Adults managing the boiling pots and deep fryer

Waiters making a delivery

Many orders on their way!

Hurrying with a late order

Can something be a disaster and a roaring success simultaneously? We reduced the number of items we sold (another lesson learned from Sugar Shark) to just three, but our next biggest lesson we learned from this restaurant was to insist on pre-orders. It was chaos! I was worried because we had fewer parent volunteers - actually, none, or more accurately, none until one got conscripted when he showed up to have lunch with his daughter. I had to collect my husband (and our deep fryer) from home at recess and drive back to school to ensure I had some help. My staff was WONDERFUL. They saw me faltering and many of them gave up their recesses and prep times to help me cook food, organize orders, supervise children, and so much more. Even though we suddenly had an influx of adult help, we were overwhelmed with the amount of orders. We vowed NO FRIES in the future, because we could not keep up with the demand. In fact, we ran out of food and one of our amazing ECEs had to run to the grocery store to buy more hot dogs, buns, and french fries. We also learned it was important to prepare as many of the meals in advance as was possible and  identify who was going home for lunch and who was staying. Some poor students did not get served their lunches until after 1:00 p.m.! My poor husband had an absolutely miserable time - he stood glued to the deep fryer for three hours straight (10:45-1:45) while the children pestered him with questions about when the fries would be ready. We made a huge profit, but our customer satisfaction was at an all-time low: one of the waiters reported hearing a fellow student mutter that this was Ms. Singh's Super BAD Food. Still, it was a huge learning experience and the other restaurants benefited from the lessons learned here.

Day 3
Friday, March 27, 2015
Merry Chickendy (Chicken Restaurant)
Room 112 (Grade 2)

Taking orders using class-created codes

Preparing the chicken burgers

Washing the dishes after closing time

Vacuuming the floor is part of restaurant work too! 

What a difference a couple of days makes! We took pre-orders for Friday's restaurant on Wednesday, so we knew exactly how many chicken burgers and chicken nuggets to buy. We replaced fries with pre-made potato chips, a simpler option. We also made some other changes based on the hectic time prior. Even though students had assigned jobs (e.g. waiters, cooks), we insisted that everyone help with delivery, one plate at a time- that way, no one sat around and did nothing for extended periods of time. We also moved our headquarters to the library, on the main floor, instead of the staff room on the second floor. Even though the library now smells of cooking oil (because we cooked nuggets in the deep fryer and chicken burgers in the oven upstairs and transported them), it reduced travel time significantly. We had two moms come to help (Diana and Mrs. I) and they were great. We were actually finished distributing all the food by 12:15 p.m., which in a way was a shame because the grown sister, sister's boyfriend and mother of one of the students came by to visit the restaurant and we were already done! We did not make as much money as on Day 2, but customer satisfaction was high. Several students came up to me to say how tasty the chicken burgers were and one raved "I'd give Merry Chickeny and 4 1/2 out of 5 star rating" (which has tempted me to teach how to write restaurant reviews to the junior division children).

Day 4
Monday, March 30, 2015
Pizza Power (Pizza Restaurant)
Room 116 (Grade 1-2)

Ingredients ready for our student chefs

Parent helpers busy organizing orders

Cheese or pepperoni?

Delivering an order

Spectacular failures can be quite inspirational. The classroom teacher in Room 116 became very involved with this project, especially after seeing me wild-eyed and frantic the week before. I didn't want to inconvenience any of the class teachers, who had no say in the participation of their students; in fact, I tried to arrange a double-period prep for them so they'd get some benefit (as well as the profit). However, this teacher gave up her double prep to help arrange this. She bought the ingredients, coordinated the parent volunteers (M's mom, M's dad, N's mom and T's mom) and had everything ready for the children. Everyone was involved with making food and delivering it; we did not stress individual jobs. We highlighted the names of the children going home for lunch and had those orders delivered well before the 11:30 a.m. start of lunch. What could have been a major flub was averted by some students with excellent memories: when we got word that the kindergarten students had no pizzas, one of our waiters / delivery personnel reported that the kindergarten teachers had asked them to lock the deliveries in her room on her desk. Sure enough, there they were and the kindergarteners ate on time. The class teacher calculated perfectly and had just enough food to give some to her hard workers. The pizza restaurant made the second largest profit margin - they sold less, but the cost of supplies was lower than the burger joint.

Day 5
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Mr. Royalty (fancy pasta restaurant)
Room 114 (Grade 3)

Is there such a thing as "restaurant fatigue"? Our pasta restaurant has the second lowest amount of sales and profit. I realized how much of an impact seeing the other classes more often had on promotion and sales. (I only see the Grade 3s twice a week, for library and media. I see the Grade 1s and 2s for library, media, and two periods of dance/drama, which in the weeks leading up to the restaurant launch, I switched to extra media classes.) There were fewer posters and no announcements on the PA for Mr. Royalty. We still took pre-orders at recess the day before, but there was a much smaller crowd. Thank goodness we were able to persuade the students that their original idea of an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant might be too costly! I was secretly grateful for a small amount of customers, as it was only me and the classroom teacher (who knew a lot more about cooking spaghetti than I did) as the adult supervisors for most of the time. D's grandmother came near the end, with beef patties for the staff and the offer to manage the student dishwashers. (I took photos but haven't uploaded them to my computer yet.) We also learned from all five restaurants that it was crucial to have letters sent home to the parents of our youngest children, alerting them to the menu options and prices. This was hard to do, as the students were calculating the prices so close to the day of the restaurants. Some intrepid early primary teachers made their own letters, or asked classes (like Pizza Power) to make letters to go home. One kindergarten teacher even translated the note into Chinese so more of our parents could read it. We also needed to be more sensitive when buying ingredients - like advertising if our chicken was halaal or checking for gluten alternatives. All the parent volunteers were so supportive and kept saying things like "Next year, you'll know exactly what to do". I had to alert them that this would probably be the only year for our restaurants. We did learn a lot, but I like creating original major projects, like last year's super hero costumes, and the media marketing tie-ins to movies from the year before.