Monday, September 22, 2014

Reorganization & New Opportunities

Say the word "reorganization" at my school lately, and you'll hear a lot of groans. Last spring, we lost 4.5 fantastic teachers. We were able to reclaim one back due to a continued central assignment, and then we were allowed to hire a new person because of an extended leave of absence.(By the time we discovered the news about the open position, all our surplussed people had found new jobs.) Due to our insanely large groups in the junior intermediate classes and the fact that we exceeded the primary division cap in all our Grade 1-3 rooms, we recently learned that we will be permitted to hire two new teachers. On one hand, we are happy to reduce the numbers in the overcrowded classrooms, but on the other hand, there's a lot of discontentment as everything from Curriculum Night to Photo Day gets moved and shuffled. We have to conduct interviews, send letters to all the students affected, and teachers and students are anxious to make the transition as soon as possible. There is also a tiny bit of resentment that we had to release some awesome educators (that you've seen me mention here and here and here and here on this blog). The students themselves even suggested (quite loudly) when they heard about the new classes that Ms. Hong and Mr. Ngo should be hired back. In my conversations, I explained to the students that they already had teaching spots at other schools - they had some very creative and defiant responses to that answer! It is most likely that, at this time of year, we will get a brand new teacher or two.

As much as I miss my former colleagues (and I do, I do-iPado-bee-do-bee-do), I'll be happy to welcome in those new teachers, because 18 years ago, it was because of reorganization that I obtained my first permanent teaching position.

I searched my blog to see if I've already told the story before - there's nothing quite as irritating as the older relative that insists on bending your ear about a tale that you've already heard countless times before - but I couldn't find evidence of it in writing, so here's my recount of being an October hire.

In September 1997, I was teaching a Grade 3 class at Churchill Heights Jr. P.S. as their LTO (long term occasional teacher) - and I loved it! I spent a lot of time that summer setting up the classroom, preparing bulletin boards and centres and establishing routines. The students felt like MY students. I supply taught the previous year for many different boards (City of York, MSSB, East York, and Scarborough) but it was a whole new experience to stay with one group of students and build a class community together. Then, reorganization time occurred and the principal of Warden Avenue Jr. P.S. contacted me. She had interviewed me previously for a kindergarten LTO that she gave to someone else, but she remembered that I had just completed my Library AQ and they had an opening for a 1/2 Library, 1/2 Grade 4-5 teacher, and asked if I would be interested. I really hated the idea of leaving "my" class at Churchill, but as the principal there reassured me, this was too good of an opportunity to miss. I applied and I was hired. 

Me at my LTO job with a student who is now probably 26 years old!
I was so young! And thin! And look at those glasses!

October 1997 was incredibly challenging. The Grade 4-5 class "lost" their morning teacher, who had been split between two schools but was able to go full time at her other school. The students loved their former morning teacher, which meant they weren't initially too happy to be with me. Sharing a classroom with another teacher is never a simple task. Warden Avenue Jr. P.S. is an inner city school and so classroom management was top priority. I'd stay at school until late at night, making index cards for the library's card catalogue (remember those?) and every night for many weeks, I'd stumble home, exhausted, drink a glass of wine, and cry. It was so hard and I felt like I was making no progress at all! It was almost a relief when the teachers protested Bill 160 (the "Education Quality Improvement Act of 1997") by withdrawing services for a couple of weeks. Here's a brief synopsis of the issue, in case you are too young to remember it.

After the political protest, when we returned to the classroom, I had an easier time of it. Nothing substantial changed - I had the same students and the same timetable. Looking back, I wonder if it was because, with the protest, it was a chance to "start anew" at the same time as the rest of the staff. Walking the picket line let me get to know my staff better. When I started in October, I had to hit the ground running, without the same amount of time to prepare my room, my students, and myself. My support network prior to the protest was my brand-new husband - we married July 5, 1997; my support network enlarged tremendously within and beyond the school afterwards.

I'd encourage any LTOs to consider applying for those positions that appear in October because it's a golden opportunity for them to secure a permanent place in a school board. I'm also going to make sure that I give a ton of emotional and pedagogical support to our newest staff members, to make them feel welcome and less overwhelmed with their new class and next stage of their professional journey. After all, 18 years ago, I was them.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

GBL beyond Minecraft

On Sunday afternoon, I sat around shivering in my robe, recovering from a sore throat and bug that left me achy and lethargic, and I asked my own children what I should write about for my upcoming Monday Molly Musings post. My boy was too busy destroying Duke Fisheron on Terraria to answer, but my girl looked up from her own online composing to suggest that I think about something in school this past week that's been exciting for me. Eureka - the post practically writes itself!

I love learning through play because of all the wonderful tangents it takes and the deep, meaningful, "sticky" learning that occurs across a variety of subjects. Aviva Dunsiger wrote about her Playdough provocations with her primary class and although she had a different end-point with her reflection, for me it was a great example of how the students can embrace and run with a topic.

My students have been asking me constantly about when we'll begin using Minecraft again, as a club and in school lessons ... but this post isn't about Minecraft. It's about Bop It.

I'm teaching Dance & Drama to the Grade 1-2 classes this year (in addition to Library, Media, and kindie ICT) and I know that I have several shy students in the class. I wanted a fun but non-threatening way to get us to think about types of movement. I was cleaning out the garage this summer and found this toy. Instead of giving it away, I thought I'd give it a try for school. I used it in a games-based learning frame of mind (not in a gamification way - if you aren't sure about the differences, I Googled this explanation, which is an okay start and avoids my justifiable anti-gamification views) and we played the game the way it was originally invented. We chose the "solo" mode and took turns. (In case you aren't familiar with the game, the machine calls out tasks and the player must act on the directions in a short period of time, such as "bop it" [which means hitting the white button], "pull it" [which involves yanking the blue bulb at the end], "twist it" [for the yellow object] and "shout it" [for the green input microphone].)

Here's when, once again, student innovation and engagement takes over any original plans I had for using this game and device.

1) Attentive Listening

When the students played Bop It, the intensity of their listening was incredible. It didn't start that way. There were lots of giggles and gasps at first, but the students themselves discovered that if the group made too much noise, the player couldn't hear the machine's instruction, which would lead to a lower score. By the time we played Bop It for a second time, you could hear a pin drop. This group norm was set in place by the students, not me. I was just delighted to see it happen.

2) Goal Setting and Celebrating Success

The students asked to play Bop It again after the first day of Dance class, so I decided to take notes about who opted to pass, who played, and their scores. I emphasized to the students that I was more concerned about whether or not they participated than their actual scores. Still, many students kept track of their own results, remembering what they got during the prior class, and became eager to improve their scores. When other students obtained a particularly high score, the class would cheer (but not too long - because they didn't want to distract the next player).

3) Extending the Learning

My initial plan was to use Bop It to launch into an exploration of pulling moves, twisting moves, and bopping moves. The students noticed that the first three commands uttered by the Bop It machine are always in the same order (bop-twist-pull) but that the pattern breaks after this. Hello patterning strand in mathematics! Then, as we experimented with our own twist/pull/bop moves, someone said we should put them together to make a movement sequence (a.k.a. a dance) and we did! It turned out so well that we wrote down the choreography (for writing and media), developed a tambourine pattern since we couldn't use the actual Bop It game for the rhythm (incorporating music and math again) and we are rehearsing the pattern to perform at our September character trait assembly! We'll be writing letters to our parents to invite them to come see those who choose to go on stage (another writing and media related task).

4) Self-Determination

When some students proclaimed that they wanted to perform their dance sequence at the assembly, I decided to put it to a vote, with majority rules. After having one class vote down the idea of sharing at the assembly, one wise boy asked why it was necessary to have the majority agree - couldn't they still go on stage even if some students were reluctant? As long as we had more than a handful of participants, it could work. I relented and agreed, and I'll leave it up to the students to decide whether or not they share in this format.

I look forward to playing more with my students and letting them teach me a thing or two.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Secret to Making Friends in High School

I hope you don't mind if I dwell on my daughter's first week of school, instead of my own. You see, she just started Grade 9 and I've been thinking a lot about her lately. She selected to attend a school that isn't close to us geographically, so she's taking public transit on her own, and no one from her elementary school goes there. I've been nervous and excited for her as she makes this huge transition, and she has adapted wonderfully. She's chatted with both parents quite comfortably about her first week of high school and she shared a surprising tip that she has for starting conversations with new people and making acquaintances and new friends.

Her backpack is a great tool.

This is what it looks like.



It's the same one she used in "middle school" (Grades 7-8) but she's added new buttons to it each year. Instead of appropriating her voice, speaking on her behalf, let me turn the keyboard over to her to explain why her backpack has helped her break the ice:

I find that my backpack has helped me make a lot of friends this past week because it kind of 'speaks for me', if that makes any sense. I can be a bit introverted most of the time and am a little shy when it comes to meeting new people. But, thanks to my backpack, when people see me wearing it as I walk by, they kind of get a sense of who I am and what I'm into without me actually talking to them. For example, I was at the bus stop the other day and another ninth grader complimented me on all of my Doctor Who pins. I started to talk to her and I found out that she and her siblings were also into this TV show. Because of this, I was able to work up the courage to ask her what else she was a fan of and found out that we had a lot in common. My friends in high school seem to be split into two groups: those who were introduced to me because of another girl who just decided to talk to me at the school's open house, and those who talked to me because they liked my pins. They're a good conversation starter and have really been a good investment. I think that's because, as I said above, they give an impression of me before people get to know me. They say, 'I like a certain anime, or a video game that you might have heard of' and people who are probably just as scared as me on their first days are probably thinking "Hey, she likes the same things as me, maybe I should talk to her." In the nutshell, they've been very useful, not only by making my bag unique and interesting, but by allowing me to meet a lot of other unique and interesting people. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

First Impressions

Today is Labour Day, the last day of summer vacation and the night before the first day of school. It's my eighteenth year of teaching and my eleventh year of teaching at my current school and the thought currently preoccupying my thoughts is ... my hair.

I know that sounds extremely shallow and vain, but I have reason to be concerned.
I think it's safe to say that I'm not your stereotypical teacher-librarian. I don't wear my hair in a bun and I don't shush the students when they come into the library. A noisy library is a productive library, in my opinion, and my short hair is usually colored a vibrant red. This summer, I decided to try something quite radically different, with the possible eventual goal of returning to my natural hue (which I'm not sure what it is, exactly, but I'm guessing is white/grey/salt-and-pepper). This is the result of my hair experiment.

It turns out that lightening red-dyed hair is very tricky. The super-short sides are blonde and the top is what my stylist told me is "rose gold", a highly sought-after shade. We were originally aiming for a pearl-grey with white, but this is cool as is.

I like experimenting with my locks, because the results are never permanent. However, not everyone I know feels the same way. My good, kind, old-fashioned father will be horrified by the change. Whenever I used to colour it red or purple, he'd ask "why can't you pick a nice dark brown?". He's convinced that the main reason why I did not get selected for a job position I applied for in the past was due to my less-than-conservative hair colour. (Note: he hasn't seen the blonde hairdo yet, because when I went to his house recently, I was wearing my wig as part of my "Anna from Frozen" costume for Fan Expo Canada.)

With an Olaf cosplayer - I'm blonde under the wig


The opinions of the interview team don't concern me as much as those of my newest students or their parents. Will my new style be off-putting or disconcerting? How important is it for teachers to "look the part"? Educators are encouraged to dress professionally and appropriately - does this count? Will I be taken seriously? Maybe this can be a great introductory lesson on "judging a book by its cover" for media or perceptions on librarians for library. I'll comment on my own post to explain how the reaction went.

Monday, August 25, 2014

It Takes a Village(r)

Here we are, the last week before school starts, and my mind turns to ... Fan Expo Canada. As I've written about before, Fan Expo Canada is an-end-of-summer tradition with my family. This time, in 2014, my daughter will be attending all four days as a Deluxe Pass attendee. Some of those days, she'll be on her own. She won't be completely set adrift to fend for herself solo - my dear friend Denise Colby will be at Fan Expo, and we just bought mother-daughter cell phones so we can keep in touch via text. (Big thanks to my little brother for doing all the research and helping us make a good choice.) This won't be her first time alone at a convention, but the last event was a much smaller venue (Reverse Polarity). This independent trip is good practice, for her and for us parents. My daughter is starting high school this year and she chose to attend one that is a bit of a distance away, so she'll be taking the bus on her own. We've raised her as best we can. It's time to let her test her wings.

Fan Expo Canada also allows me to test my creativity. I love to dress up and Fan Expo gives me the chance to build and wear costumes. Halloween is just one day a year, but Fan Expo Canada is longer! This year, I plan on going for two days. On the first day, I'll re-use my Anna from Frozen cosplay that I originally assembled for my school's So You Think You Can Dance extravaganza. On the second day, I'll wear my Minecraft Villager. I made it on August 19 and took photos to document the process.

Step 1: Collect the boxes and plan

I first decided to make another Minecraft character when my husband bought a new vacuum cleaner. He saved the box for me and I spent some time considering what to make. I thought about being Steve and buying another pre-formed head (like my creeper, on the left) but I wanted to be different. I also had to consider "the arm issue". Creepers don't have arms, so I could hide my real arms inside the thin box. Other Minecraft residents have working arms and I wasn't sure how to get that to work and still look good. Villagers have their arms folded across their chests, so in the end, I decided to make a villager. We bought quite a few shoes while we were on holiday in the U.S.A., so I saved two boxes, used the box that held my Canadian Children's Book Centre review copies for the head, and added two cardboard cubes from my summer school Build Zone for arm additions. It's like my whole summer was represented in this costume!

Step 2: Find models and sketch

My son and daughter helped me figure out what kind of villager I wanted to be - the garden variety. The original box I was planning to use for the nose was too small, according to them, so I found another. I located a clear illustration of a villager so I could get a sense of the colour scheme and ratios. I tried on the boxes, marked spots for my eyes, and moved things around like a jigsaw puzzle. I went to Michael's and got the right colour of paper for the body and nose. I was extra happy because it was on sale. My entire costume probably cost about $6.

Step 3: Measure and cut

My tools were quite diverse. I used my scrapbooking materials, like the straight edge cutter and the square maker, pictured to the right. I also used household items like scissors and knives. I cut out holes for the eyes, squares to represent the eyebrows and eyes, and holes in the vacuum cleaner box for my head and arms. I had to re-cut several times because my head was too big to fit through the original openings I made. The arms were tricky to cut because of the fake arms nearby. To be honest, if I had a chance to do it over again, I'd probably make the arms higher up, so that they don't interfere with my real arms and the space for them to come out through the flaps at the sides. I try not to use my arms too much while wearing the costume, as it distracts from the overall visual, but I've got to be able to use my hands!

Step 4: Wrap and cover

I had a limited amount of dark brown paper. (I bought out all the supplies at my local arts and craft store.) I measured how much I would need and cut them all out in advance, to ensure I had enough for what I needed. I could see the progress I was making, especially with the face, so it kept me going. I really wanted to finish it all in one day. My creeper costume took longer because of all the cutting and pasting of those tiny squares all over the box. This was a lot easier!

Step 5: Glue (and glue fast!)

I couldn't take a photo of me using the hot glue gun, because speed was essential. I had to cover enough of the surface so it'd stick, but do it and attach it quickly before it dried and hardened. Preparing all the pieces in advance helped a lot. I had to be extra cautious with the arms - I didn't want to glue the wrong side facing up, as these boxes weren't wrapped all the way around. (I had to save paper somehow!)



And here it is, the final product! My villager will be a lot taller when I wear him, because my legs will be his legs. I'll take plenty of photos while wearing him, and he will do double duty as decor for the many Minecraft workshops and presentations Liam, Denise and I will be giving as part of our Ministry of Education TLLP grant. It took a villager to remind me to bring Makerspaces to my school library some more this school year, to let my students take the lead in doing things that excite them and authentically problem-solve.



Monday, August 18, 2014

Canadian Schools Should be like American Restaurants

I just returned yesterday from a 3-week vacation in the United States. I had a wonderful time relaxing, visiting relatives, enjoying the weather, and eating. Boy, did we eat! Below is a list of all the different places where we dined.

  • TGI Friday
  • Busy Bee Snowballs
  • McDonalds
  • Casa Mia
  • Yogi Castle
  • Friendly's
  • Burger King
  • Tutti Frutti
  • Bob Evans
  • Pizza Hut
  • Red Brick
  • Dumser's
  • Dairy Queen
  • Pisano's 
  • The Joint
  • Sweet Frog
  • Phillip's
  • Breezy Point Seafood
  • Hardee's
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • Olive Garden
  • Looney's Pub
  • Applebee's
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Don Pablo
  • Della Rosa
I was trying to decide what education topic I should explore for today. I could have written about the American school system, as my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are both teachers and I visited their classrooms briefly as they prepared for their upcoming school year. (They start earlier than we do.) However, as that list above is evident, I spent a lot more time filling my face than I did scoping out schools, so it'd make more sense to give this sort of report. Another reason to avoid comparing the Canadian and American school systems: I'd hate to look like I'm dissing my in-laws or their employers (even though Canada does score higher on PISA tests than its southern neighbours and often outranks it ). 

Don't get thrown off by my title; it is slightly tongue-in-cheek (or tongue-licking-lips). I think Canadian schools should be more like American restaurants because of ...

1) Super-Friendly Customer Service

I was really astounded by how cheerful and exuberant our waiters and waitresses were while we were in Maryland. The cashier at Burger King sang game show theme songs to us. The server at Olive Garden chatted at length about her trip to Vancouver, complimenting us on our wonderful country. Our TGI Friday employee was uber-attentive, guided us to the best deals on the menu and discussed football and baseball with us. The majority of the Maryland restaurant workers we encountered were chatty and outgoing, and they also work hard for their tips. (It seems to me that Americans tip better than Canadians - but I could be wrong.) In Canadian education, we teachers should strive to be as friendly, approachable, and cheerful.

2) Provide Great Quantity and Quality

Thank you Casa Mia for these crab cakes!
I must have gained quite a bit of weight while on holiday. The portions were huge! Maryland is well-known for its crabs, and I feasted on crab cakes quite often while I was there, including ones that were the size of my fist! These meals filled my tummy and provided me with great leftovers the next day. In Canadian education, we should continue to fill the heads of our students with great quantity and quality of knowledge. When our students leave the class, they should be satisfied, but also hunger for more.


3) Offer a Variety of Choices

The Sunshine Skillet - yum!
Toronto is much more multicultural than Baltimore, but the restaurants did give some new taste sensations to me. When I got my Bob Evans breakfast, I didn't realize gravy could be white! Even "specialty" restaurants had such large menus that it took a while to decide what delicious meal to choose. When it comes to serve-yourself frozen yogurt, we have one main chain I'm aware of (Menchies), whereas there are many more in the U.S. In Canadian education, we should share a large menu of options, from different ways to learn to different ways to present findings to different topics of study. 


4) Be Open As Late and As Early as you Can

Even tastier than it looks, from Breezy Pt.
I know that Canadian restaurants have good hours and tasty food. My dear friend Diana Hong has made it her summer goal to investigate where the best Eggs Benedict can be bought in Toronto. I guess, because we were eating out A LOT, I tended to notice it more in Baltimore. (Plus, I just wanted an excuse to include a photo of the most delicious grilled salmon and grilled zucchini I had at a tiny little place near my mother-in-law's house.) In Canadian education, this translates to keeping our libraries open during recess, before and after school as much as possible, so that we can serve our clientele when they want it. 

I didn't post a lot of Twitter posts while away because I took to heart the Internet safety advice not to advertise that I was away from home and I tried to disconnect from my computer (another possible blog topic for the future). Hope this gives you a visual hint of how good of a time I had. I'm glad to be back in my "home and native land" and plan on working off all that good Yankee feasting that remains on my waistline. 



 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The 2nd Half of LMM14 - A Photo Essay

My students learned the word "paparazzi" in summer school. Hopefully I was not as annoying as a mosquito while taking these photos, but I believe that it demonstrated how important their achievements were, that I was so eager to capture all these moments. Here are the last nine days of summer school 2014, from Tuesday, July 15 to Friday, July 25.

Day 10 = A small group had a division tutorial on the IWB.

Day 10 = We had more Minecraft House presentations.

Day 10 = An aerial view of one of the student builds.

Day 10 = A glass house in a lake full of pigs!
Day 11 = A student tower. Tall, yes. Stable, no.

Day 11 = More Minecraft House presentations

Day 11 = Another virtual abode.

Day 11 = Unique materials for houses online.
Day 12 = All the plans and screenshots displayed here.

Day 12 = Student-controlled bulletin board
Day 13 = The collaborative Minecraft Bridge over lava.

Day 13 = Our bridge plans displayed proudly in the hall.
Day 14 = Baking cakes involve a lot of math!

Day 14 = Cube-shaped decorations for the cake.

Day 14 = Our Minecraft cakes, with a pickaxe and Enderman.

Day 15 = Miss Colby's class shared their Grade 6-7 Minecraft Projects.

Day 15 = Our Grade 3s presented their Minecraft Bridges to Miss Colby's group
Day 15 = Their lava bridges included track!
Day 16 = The students are still keeping organized!

Day 16 = Ms. Allan's Grade 6s in Lucy Maud made robots! We visited.

Day 16 = Love the camraderie between Lucy Maud & Crescent Town.