Monday, April 16, 2018

#ECOOCamp Reflections - Far From Home, Near to Learning

This past weekend, the big news was the ice storm that hit Ontario. On Saturday, April 14, 2018, I drove to Owen Sound for the first ECOO Camp. Beginning my journey at 6:00 a.m. meant that I didn't have much traffic trouble on the way there and the roads were not yet treacherous. It took a typical 2.5 hours of travel time. Going back was a different story. Despite the fact that I had to shorten my time there due to the weather, I still got a lot out of the experience.

The neat thing was that ECOO partnered with Teach Ontario for this event.
The site can be found at

Confirmation that I was a speaker here!

8:45 a.m. - Opening Keynote by Emily Fitzpatrick

Summary & 3 Key Points
  1. The future is amazing
  2. There are so many cool and exciting things to discover and explore
  3. Technology makes a lot of neat things possible

So What? Now What?

I felt like Emily's talk was supposed to be directed more to the heart than the mind. It was a feel-good way to begin the conference.

9:15 a.m. - Making Space and Time for a Maker Space in your School by Velvet Rollin

Summary and 3 Key Points
  1. Don't just think about it. Do it! (They just launched in November.)
  2. There can be a noticeable reduction in the amount of negative behaviour when students are visiting the makerspace instead of getting in trouble at recess.
  3. You don't have to buy a lot of expensive stuff for your makerspace.

So What? Now What?

I've been "doing makerspaces" in my school library for a while now, so a lot of the information was not new to me. I was quite disappointed that, although their makerspace was in the school library, there were no school library professionals (aka teacher-librarians) there to guide and support it. I can't change the amount of school library staffing there, but at least my presence reminded people about why teacher-librarians can matter.

10:15 a.m. - Making Movies by Diana Maliszewski

Love this photo of my participants snapping a shot of a slide!

Summary and 3 Key Points
  1. Making movies hits a lot of curriculum expectations as well as learning skills / global competencies.
  2. Students care about YouTube (and so do many of us) and sharing there is cool - just remember to consider privacy / media release forms / copyright and user permission levels (visual and audio).
  3. Green screen is fun because you can use any person or character with any background - just don't dress someone in green unless you want their body to be invisible!

So What? Now What?

Next time, I should put my contact information and YouTube account name on the first slide or on the bottom of all the slides, so that people don't have to ask or wait to get that data. I'm glad that we had time to tinker with the mini-green screen set-up because that was the point where I believe that people became the most excited. I was relieved that the information I shared with satisfactory to elementary and secondary teachers because there were quite a few high school representatives in the audience. (Either that, or they were too polite to say that the material was irrelevant to them!)

11:15 a.m. - There is no shushing in this library! by Julie Reay / The A-Z of Online Tools by Jen Apgar and Emily Fitzpatrick

Summary and 3 Key Points
  1. There are a lot of free tools you can use to engage your students.
  2. There are a lot of tips you can employ to make your job easier (I'm thinking the random group generator in one of the examples I forgot to write down - Flippity, maybe?)
  3. Be willing to "just try stuff", like Jen and Emily did with this presentation (wing it!) because you never know when even ninjas like Emily will learn something new.

So What? Now What?

I learned quite a few handy little tidbits from this talk that I wasn't expecting to - I had originally hoped to hear from the originally scheduled speaker but the ice storm kept her away. I also tended to stay away from the brand-name strands (ECOO Camp had a Microsoft strand, a Google strand, a pedagogy strand, and administrator strand) but maybe I should not have done so, since this was Google-focused but was still productive. I also used Twitter to take notes during this session, which was both good and bad; good for sharing, bad for occasionally missing stuff as I grabbed a photo to go along with the perfectly worded tweet.

12:15 p.m. - Lunch

Thank you cafeteria staff and Nadine Osborne! I had a quick lunch, chatted with Nadine (who teaches the ETFO Kindergarten AQ course and is a long-time friend of my beloved Lisa Noble), and then packed up with extra bowls of soup for the yucky drive home. There were so many kind people who offered me places to stay (in their hotel rooms, at their houses, or with relatives nearby) but I'm glad I spent the 4 hours slowly driving back. I'm sorry I missed Derek Tangredi's closing keynote - the tweets I saw indicated that it was a good one. I would not have applied to present at this conference had it not been for Doug Peterson, current president of ECOO and connector extraordinaire. Thanks Doug and the entire team for a great conference.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Go Together

It's so much better when you go together!

This is true whether it relates to exercise or professional learning. I have examples from this week to prove both types.

A) Go Together to Exercise

I took a four-month hiatus from my Cross Fit exercise classes so that I could focus on my sewing lessons. I thought I'd have to choose between returning to Cross Fit and continuing sewing class (which I was inclined to do because I was finally seeing progress) but I decided to try and do both, since they are on different days. Returning to Cross Fit would have been excruciatingly difficult had it not been for my new exercise buddy - my husband James.

James' shoes on the left, mine on the right - brand new for class!

No lies - the break away from this sort of physical activity was too long and I was super-sore after the first class on Easter Monday. The benefit was that I wasn't the only one in the household with aching muscles. James hurt in different places (his triceps vs my quadriceps) but we both felt like we accomplished something together. James says he's taking the classes with me "to become more fit and to encourage you [Diana, aka me] so you [Diana, aka I] don't slack off". I appreciate this level of accountability. There were only a few classes in the fall that I skipped just because I didn't feel up to exerting myself. I suspect that now there will be even fewer missed sessions.

The funny thing is that when I returned to school on Wednesday, April 4 (two days after my first 2018 Cross Fit Sweat 60 class), hobbling and limping, my discomfort motivated two of my colleagues to sign up for a class at the same location! I'm not sure if the normal response to witnessing the physical suffering of another human being is to say, "Ooh, give me some of what she's having!", but it inspired them. One had to back out at the last minute, but the other - Kathleen - attended the class and was pleased enough with the experience that she chose to register too.

If you'd like to see exactly how challenging everyday tasks like walking was at that time, go watch my MADPD promotional video where I crawl up the stairs. The URL is

B) Go Together for Professional Learning - #tdsbul18

Visual of John Malloy's opening keynote at #tdsbul18

Last week's blog mentioned that I was busy preparing for the 2018 TDSB Unleashing Learning conference on Tuesday, April 3 (which is why the staff and students at my school didn't see my altered gait until the next day). 1500 educators swarmed the Beanfield Centre on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition to hear about how Global Competencies intertwine with some neat teaching and learning opportunities. It was also the site of the DLL (Digital Lead Learner) Marketplace, where everyday practitioners share some of the tips and tools they use when integrating technology in their classrooms. That translates to a lot of people, which can be pretty overwhelming. I checked out the schedule beforehand and attended a great workshop by April De Melo and Erin Persad about supporting kindergarten STEAM inquiries in the library.

Thankfully, I found my co-presenter, Denise, at lunch and we buddied up for the rest of the afternoon. That didn't mean we stuck to each other's side like glue; it meant that we had another person to compare notes, discuss observations, analyze talks, and make connections. I hope that the photo below won't be the last I see of teacher and author Peyton Leung - he likes games just as much as Denise and I do, and I hope that morphs into a teacher gaming outing.

Denise, Joel, Peyton, and me - selfie with Peyton's cool book!

My friends Diana Hong and Rob Reyes made a point of attending my workshop and tweeting about it to support me, for which I was surprised but grateful. I didn't realize my principal was also attending the conference; he dropped by just before I had to present to give his best wishes, which was very nice. The next day, I discovered that our school's chairs went to the same conference as well. I'm sorry we didn't get to hang out in quite the same way Denise and I were able to, because then we could share our "ahas" from the day. Turns out I got an opportunity to do that with Diana Hong later in the week.

C) Go Together for Professional Learning - #tdsbEd 2nd Anniversary
When you go somewhere you've never been before, going with someone else makes it less intimidating. Thursday, April 5, 2018 was the second anniversary of the #tdsbEd Twitter chat. Diana Hong had never participated in one before, despite the fact that she is the Technology Goddess I often turn to when I'm stumped. She agreed to come with me to TDSB headquarters at 5050 Yonge Street to mingle with some of the #tdsbEd participants. Many of the new faces at the anniversary party came with a colleague. Even some of the veteran tweeters brought someone else along. It makes the situation socially safe and more comfortable. We chatted with others, we nibbled on food, and we even tweeted. We didn't have time to stay for the entire event, and so it demonstrates another advantage to going somewhere together - it's not as awkward leaving an occasion in the middle of it when you aren't the only one. (We were also lucky we left when we did because I neglected to inform my family that we left Ms. Hong's car in my driveway so we could carpool and the parking enforcement division of Toronto Police was notified about this mystery parker. Luckily the officer that arrived on the scene was very understanding and did not ticket or tow my friend's car.)

Hopefully these examples will help you find a friend to accompany you somewhere instead of going solo. Too bad I can't find anyone from the GTA heading to Owen Sound next Saturday. Anyone?

Monday, April 2, 2018

Get Ready, Get Set, Present!

Happy Easter to those who celebrate the holiday. I spent the long weekend at church, but also with family for Easter dinner, and in front of the computer preparing for a few upcoming projects and events.

Some of these projects aren't new to me, like creating the school yearbook, designing workshops with one of my favourite co-presenters, Denise Colby (we appear at the TDSB Unleashing Learning conference tomorrow and the ETFO ICT Conference in June), reviewing presentation notes (I go to ECOO Owen Sound April 14) or planning for the annual MakerFestival Toronto extravaganza in July. Others are new approaches that are making me closely consider what it means to present.

TDSB Unleashing Learning, April 3, 2018
Maker Festival 2018, see

We want you! Fill out the interest form at
Driving north to share some thoughts and tips

I'm really excited about my new volunteer job with the Ontario Library Association, as the co-chair of the OSLA branch of the 2019 Super Conference. Alanna King is my experienced co-chair and I'm so happy to be a part of this experience with her. On Tuesday, March 27, all the volunteers involved with planning Super Conference met at the OLA headquarters to officially begin planning. Did I mention that the 2018 event was early February? It takes 11 months of behind-the-scenes work to make a conference of this size a success. The new theme has been chosen ("For the People") and today, the call for proposals link went live. (Consider presenting! Go to ). What I really enjoyed during the launch meeting was the destruction of "silo thinking". Alanna and I were busy networking and chatting with the other library sectors and their representatives throughout the day. Even though some of our concerns and needs are exclusive to the school setting, there are many more commonalities than you'd expect. There were a lot of tasks we undertook that helped us to gel as a group and I think this will be a rewarding process and end product for all involved.

The only downside to being on the Super Conference planning team is that I will have no time to present at the conference itself. Thankfully, there are several other conferences that I can apply to - and one of them will be quite different. As described on MADPD:
is a virtual “unconference” with one goal to make a difference for the greater education community. On May 6, 2018 over 100 educators from across the globe will share one idea that makes a difference in their classrooms! YOU can attend the conference, virtually, FREE, from the comfort of your home
Peter Cameron invited me to submit a proposal and I made the commitment. This is going to be a big departure from my usual kind of talk. It's using YouTube Live and I'll need to do some set-up in advance. Promotions will be done through FlipGrid, which I'm familiar with thanks to some teacher karaoke challenges. I will also need to get permission from my students to show some of their work. It sounds like a lot of fun, and with 100 people presenting over a 12 hour period, there should be something there for everyone! I won't have the same sort of feedback loop that I often get when being in the room physically with others, but I'll try and channel my experiences doing webinars into this event. I hope to see some of my friends at one or more of these conferences. See you there!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Feel Like a Star

I asked my husband this time for advice on what to write for today's blog. My original idea couldn't be shared publicly online because it would breach privacy expectations that teachers should usually maintain. He told me that I spent a lot of time this week making costumes and that my post should somehow tie into that.

The date of our school musical is fast approaching and I volunteered to be on the costume committee. My job is to outfit the animal characters and the student playing the sun. I love creating costumes! Like my cosplaying daughter and her process, some parts are found/repurposed and other parts are made by hand with help. I scoured thrift stores all over the east end of the GTA (and even in Calgary) for furry bodies and my discoveries saved us time and money. No need to "reinvent the wheel" if you don't have to do so! My daughter helped me make the ears combining head bands with felt and we had fittings during recess this past week.







Although I announced which specific actors were needed in the library to try on their costumes, many more arrived. I believe it's because the students enjoy the special treatment. They want to feel like a star - being fussed over, and that their opinions matter on how their costumes fit and feel. They appreciate having an adult's positive attention focused just on them.

This was Aviva Dunsiger's observation in her most recent blog post. She reminds us to "slow down, listen to, and form relationships with kids". When we connect, value, and love them, so many positive things can happen. It can be challenging when they all want it at the same time and it's tempting to try and multi-task so you can "get more bang for your buck". However, a costume fitting forces you to narrow your focus to that one performer at that one moment in time. You can't divide your attention, or you might stick a person with a pin, or worse! My sewing teacher warned me about this - while showing me about how to quickly remove stitches with a rotary cutter instead of a stitch ripper (you can see a photo of this on last week's blog post), she told me that she took off a chunk of flesh from her finger because she was distracted by the TV while using a rotary cutter.

The more I use my sewing machine and the related tools, the more comfortable I feel doing it - and I have to admit, I like feeling like a "seamstress to the stars", with my measuring tape draped around my neck and my ideas becoming reality. The tails I've made this weekend (a beaver, wolf, and squirrel) are looking pretty cool and I'm nervously excited about tackling the wings of the owl, cardinal, and raven. I'll try and share more photos (even of the mis-steps) as we proceed.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Body on Break, Brain Back at School!

Welcome back to school! I really needed that week of vacation to recharge my batteries. It was a nice mix of scheduled and free time, connecting with family and friends, and doing vs thinking. The funny thing is that I can be away from school but my thoughts aren't far from school. Here's a quick summary of what I did and how it led me to thoughts about education.

Saturday, March 10 and Saturday, March 17, 2018 = Sewing Classes

These were my last two sewing classes, and I was sad to see them end! I'm finally getting the hang of sewing now, especially because of my wise and wonderful sewing teacher. Having said that, I've made HUGE mistakes trying to make these "simple" pajama pants. I stitched my legs together and had to rip them all out. On March 17, I cut out the extra fabric that I thought was there erroneously - but it turns out that was the extra space for the behind, so the pants may not work anymore! My teacher was patient and showed me how to put an elastic into a pants, avoid fraying connections with a zig zag stitch, and many more things. My fellow student Tamra asked me to tell her everything she missed, but it's really hard to sum up several hours of mini- and mega-lessons when you weren't there to experience it first-hand.
Link to Learning: 1. Document, document, document! (I took a lot of photos to remind myself what things should look like when done right.) 2. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. (You can almost always re-do it - unless you cut stuff!) 3. Taking time to try helps learning sink in. (Natalie let us stay past our regular time and that helped a lot when we weren't limited to 90 minutes to absorb things.)

Natalie shows me how to pin the elastic in the waist

Natalie demonstrating how to pull while stitching elastics

March 10 progress - need to finish the seams so it won't fray!
Showing me how to CAREFULLY remove stitches

Saturday March 10 to Wednesday, March 14, 2018 = Calgary, Alberta

You already read about my son's first time on an airplane and our weekend in Calgary. As we predicted, we went to Banff on Monday and Drumheller on Tuesday. We could have crammed a lot into each day, but we refrained and only spent a few hours in each place. I'm glad we did, because it prevented us from being absolutely exhausted at the end of the day, and it allowed us some quality, low-key time with my sister. For Banff, the goal was the gondola up the mountain. In Drumheller, the focus was the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Link to Learning: 1. Don't try to accomplish too much at one time. 2. Do the things that are outside your comfort zone (that gondola was pretty high up and although I'm not exactly scared of heights, it was a little spooky realizing that just a few cables were all that held us up). 3. Little things are just as special as big things (i.e. I enjoyed going over French flash cards with my sister as much as I did examining T-rex bones).

Beautiful Banff

In a gondola, passing a gondola

My son and my sister on a throne of ice

Wise tips when in the Badlands of Alberta!

Everything is dinosaurs in Drumheller!

Thursday, March 15, 2018 = Marriage Prep Class

This was our "catch-up" day, filled with errands and ending with the second-last marriage preparation class. I've written three times about teaching marriage preparation so I won't go on at length. We didn't lead this session and we weren't particularly pleased with how it went.
Link to Learning: 1. Stick to your principles. 2. Proper preparation and training are key. 3. Humour helps.

Friday, March 16, 2018 = Canada Blooms

My parents need to get out more, but it's tricky to find a place or event that appeals to them. Thankfully, my brother reminded me about Canada Blooms, the flower and garden show. I bought the three of us tickets (thank you CAA for the discount!) and we went on Friday. I am not a gardening fan. It's not my cup of tea but my mom and dad had a wonderful time. My dad even took photos while he was there. I had to show him multiple times how to use the camera on their cell phone, but he managed. (The photos here are the ones I took.)
Link to Learning: 1. There's something of interest for everyone as long as you are willing to look for it. 2. Making others happy can make you happy too.

My mom and dad held hands wherever they walked

"The Old Folks" having fun at Canada Blooms

Saturday, March 17, 2018 = Breakout Con

My daughter worked at the ROM all March Break so on Saturday we spent a few hours at Breakout Con, a board game and role-playing game convention. I wasn't really enjoying myself until I met up with my friends Denise Colby and Jen Apgar (and Tasmin). The five of us played Lost Cities (a game about launching expeditions) and Celestia (a combination collaborative/competitive game of sailing and wagering if attempts will be successful). We had tried neither of these games before but we had two separate people come and teach us how to play. Jen made a great observation that I vowed I had to blog about - "explaining how to play a game is like teaching mathematics; you might be able to do it but not everyone that's good at it is good at introducing people to it". She had plenty of other nuggets of wisdom about play and practice and math and what makes a good game / math experience. I wish I wrote them down! Denise pointed out the benefits of explaining the game in multiple ways (especially with visuals). Jen's explanation led me to buy a game that may be a bit young for my teens at home but I think my school children will like (Food Fighters).
Link to Learning: 1. Hang out with people who make you think. 2. Math is everywhere. 3. Excellent mathematicians do not always make excellent math teachers - making something make sense to someone new to the concept is a talent.

Getting ready to play Celestia

Oops! We had the ship upside down the first time!

Celestia set-up!

Learning to play Food Fighters

Helpful sign - needed elsewhere?

I didn't talk about a lot of these things at school, because of a post Jennifer Brown tweeted.

Kerri Commisso balanced this in a wonderful way in her classroom today and I was fortunate enough to see it. She gave the students time to talk, in groups of their choosing, about their time away from school. After a reasonable amount of time, we returned to our organization of our guided reading groups. I complimented her on her approach and she said she read Jennifer's tweet, adding "we don't have to make students write about everything". Great point! I couldn't resist writing here, but no one forced me, and my blog is my "back-up memory". Hope everyone else had a beneficial break.

Monday, March 12, 2018

First Flight

Happy March Break to those on holiday right now! I'm writing this blog post at my sister's house in Calgary. My sister moved out west about a decade ago and has been keen to have some familiar faces from Toronto come visit. I popped by in 2010 while I was in town for the Treasure Mountain Canada library symposium, but hadn't been around since then, because in my opinion Calgary was too expensive, too far, and too cold.  This time, we found decent airline sales that coincided with my spring vacation. packed extra layers for Calgary's unpredictable weather, and took the plunge. What makes this trip extra special is that my son came with me and it is his first time travelling on an airplane.

Peter had some mixed feelings about flying. Part of his emotions may have to do with watching the famous Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet" - his logical mind knew there'd be no gremlins interfering with the equipment, but when we are faced with new, unfamiliar challenges, our logical thoughts aren't always the primary ones.

Peter embodied the old Nike slogan - "Just Do It". He claims that he didn't have a strategy to make the first flight less stressful but I did notice a few things we did to make it less anxiety-provoking. He brought some manga to read to keep him occupied. He and I chatted a bit and watched the movie "Coco" together on the in-flight entertainment system. He was so engrossed that he didn't even realize that we had some turbulence.

I couldn't help being a bit of a proud mother, taking photos of my very patient son as he sat in his seat and whispering to the flight attendants that this was his first flight. They offered to introduce him to the pilot after the journey, but we had some delays with take-off, so it was after midnight when we landed and we were too tired to take them up on their invitation.

We don't have a long time to spend exploring "Cow Town" and the main purpose of our visit is to spend time with my sister and her significant other. Peter continues to embrace new experiences and actually went ATVing on a frozen Albertan lake. My son inspired me to try new things as well; my adventures weren't as hair-raising - I tried some fancy new tea and arancini at an Italian restaurant in Kensington for lunch. Our other plans include seeing Banff and the Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum in Drumheller.

If I had to determine what the "big idea" was for this blog post (hey, it's hard turning off your "teacher brain" for a week!), I'd say that it's important to try new things even when they scare you, and make a point of spending time with people you care about. We all don't have the financial freedom or room in our schedules to fly across the country, so in your own ways, in your own neighbourhoods, try something new and reconnect.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Dean Machine

This past week, my ball hockey team made it to the finals in our school tournament. This past week, several of our intermediate division girls attended the LC3 Girls in STEM conference. The common factor in both of those events is an amazing teacher that often doesn't get the credit he deserves - Dean Roberts.

Ms. Lee & Mr. Roberts on PJ Day

Let me tell you a little bit about Dean. I first met him when he was a student teacher. Teaching is a second career for Dean and he took to it like a duck takes to water. We "lost" Dean a couple of times as a permanent teacher due to surpluses and seniority numbers, but somehow he always made it back to our school, for which we all should be incredibly thankful.

Dean is willing to do almost anything for his students, staff, and school, even if it means looking a bit ridiculous or sacrificing what little of his free time he has available. (He teaches Grade 6-7 and is often one of the last ones to leave the school at night because he stays behind to mark and plan.) Let me provide just a few examples. When I was teaching the ESL self-contained class for history, the students needed some fun but concrete ways to understand the type of people populating New France. I asked Dean if he could pretend to be a coureur de bois and answer questions from the students. Dean gave up his prep time to do it and even improvised when he forgot his special clothes.

Dean the coureur de bois and Diana the nun
 Dean participates actively in our school spirit days, and in 2016 for "Movember", Dean allowed members of the class that raised the most money for prostrate cancer research to shave him on stage.

Taking it on the chin (literally) for a good cause
When I saw a leather couch on the side of the road just before school began this year, I turned to Dean for help transporting it to use in the library. Dean didn't hesitate - he drove his truck to my neighbourhood and carted it back to school.

I've mentioned the ball hockey tournament - it is now a school tradition and Dean organizes it all, from the "draft pick day" to refereeing the games, from publishing the statistics to paying for the engraving on the trophy. This takes a lot of time and effort but Dean gladly performs this service because he knows how much it means to the community.

Dean presents the trophy to Siobhan's winning intermediate team
Within his class, Dean is always trying out new, engaging tasks for his students to undertake. Often, it means a lot of work on his part. Right now, he is re-designing a better green screen film studio for his students to use for their commercials. He built this incredible puppet theatre the year he had students create and perform their own puppet shows and he let me borrow.

Here's the deceiving thing about Dean - because he has such a jovial nature and comfortable rapport with his students, sometimes people don't realize what a talented, competent, committed, professional teacher he is. His students love to joke with him and tease him, which for me is evidence about how much they like him. They feel perfectly at ease to complain about a math lesson or try and persuade him to give extensions to assignments. They talk to this male role model in ways that I suspect they dare not with their own parents. Dean is fun-loving but Dean is also serious - about teaching and learning. A lot of what he does pedagogically happens behind the scenes. For instance, Dean approached me last spring about a student that he had some concerns about regarding his reading. Dean asked for book recommendations that matched the student's passions and strove to read these books himself so he was more knowledgeable about what he could suggest. This student, now in his second year in Dean's class, has become an incredibly motivated reader who reads constantly instead of minimally and shares books with his fellow students to support their love of reading. I can't place all of the credit for this transformation on Dean; sometimes it's a matter of the right reader finding the right book to launch the love. However, Dean's unwavering support, positive reinforcement, and determination to help this student reach his potential has been important to his development. 

I am very fortunate to co-teach regularly with Dean for a shared library-media period this school year and I can testify to the amount of consideration he puts into making the best learning environment to help all of his students succeed. Dean, I hope I haven't embarrassed you too much by devoting today's blog post to you, but you deserve the recognition. Keep up the good work!