Monday, June 20, 2016

Stalking Heather Stoness at #etfot4t

Before I launch into today's post, let me clarify: I'm not exactly a stalker. I don't stealthily hunt or pursue Heather. My attention towards her is neither obsessive nor unwanted. (I need to double check with her about the unwanted part, but I'm presuming it's true because she didn't run away from me at all this past weekend.) I just could not resist using this alliterative, click-bait-worthy title!

June 17-18 was the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Women's ICT Conference. You can read some of the tweets from the conference here.

It was a wonderful conference. ETFO deliberately keeps the conference cozy and intimate. About 160 women attended and over 200 were on the waiting list. My dear friend Denise Colby and I presented four times in the six available time slots. Thankfully, this still left me time to participate in two sessions and to listen to the opening keynote. It turns out that both of the workshops I chose were run by Heather Stoness from Halton District School Board.

Heather's first talk on Friday June 17 was about Genius Hour. Her slides can be found at if you want access to the suggestions and tools.

Heather's second talk on Saturday June 18 was called "Fun, Fast, Formative Assessment". Once again, her presentation notes can be found at

I liked the pacing of Heather's presentations - she provided adequate time for participants to try the task. She gave information in digestible chunks and varied the way she delivered content by including videos and interactive activities. She understood adult learning styles and made it a safe and legitimate choice during the hands-on session on Saturday to permit teachers to just go deeper with two of the four tools she offered, while sharing more for those who wanted. (Her four tools from Saturday's talk were Kahoot, Quizizz, EdPuzzle, and Plickers.) I had already heard of two of these - the French teacher at my school loves Kahoot, and Denise and I used Plickers as part of our Friday talks. (Here we are using Plickers during our first Friday session.)

The icing on the cake? Heather is a teacher-librarian, like me! Teacher-librarians are awesome. I saw many of them present at the conference, and I'm sure they'll be taking back all the tidbits they learned at this conference and sharing them with their staff members.

I want to thank Heather, her co-presenter Erin Stoness, the ETFO staff (Ruth, Bixi, Denise and the others) and all the participants who made this conference so memorable. I also have to thank Andrew Forgrave, "Terragrim" and "Phisagrim" (my kids) for being virtual guides and helping our participants play Minecraft. They built a "Teacher Training Zone" in the Gumbycraft server in less than an hour for educators who needed a more structured tutorial for game use.

In the interest of continuing to share, you can find Denise Colby's presentation at and here are the results of our PollEverywhere survey.

Monday, June 13, 2016

6 Stellar Students + 2 Days = Making Memories at Provincials

Raheem Bieniek
Vivien Li
Ishita Patel
Rachel Tiku
Elijah Valdez
Jennifer Zhu

The TDSB team at Provincials in U of T

Thanks to their media release forms, I can share their names and photos here. On the same weekend that we heard about the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, in my tiny corner of the world, I can share some positive news. At times where we despair that people can live in harmony despite being different, I can reflect on this past weekend, where six unique and talented students from six diverse schools bonded during a two-day trip and how honored I was to play a small part in their adventures.

The Ontario Heritage Fairs Association describes the Provincial Fair as such:

The purpose of the Ontario Provincial Heritage Fair is to bring together students from grades 4 to 10
(representing the Regional fairs held in Ontario) for a non-competitive, interactive history camp that includes
a public showcase to promote awareness of Ontario and Canadian history and heritage. 
In that showcase students share the excellent research projects that they have brought with them.
Chosen students complete a research project using primary and secondary sources for sharing with their
classmates and peers a their school and then at a Regional Fair.  Each Regional Fair chooses students and
projects to attend the Provincial Fair.  A base number of places is allotted to each site and extra spaces are
allocated specifically for the inclusion of First Nations, French First Language and non-traditional students.

I was asked to supervise the Toronto East and West delegation. I'm so glad that I did. These students were absolutely fabulous! I had a chance to see them in action during the first section of our packed itinerary, which was the Provincial Heritage Fair Showcase. This isn't a competition, but that did not stop these students from enthusiastically sharing information about their projects that indicated how passionate and well-versed they were about their topics. I tweeted several photos of them posed formally next to their projects but I want to share these action shots of them deep in conversation with strangers about history.

Opening ceremonies of the OHFA Provincials 2016

Raheem shows the radio he built with his dad to visitors

Ishita teaches a guest some basic ASL

Vivien explains her research on Sir John A Macdonald

Jennifer talked about her alternative history project asking "what if treaties were honored?"

These students knew their history, so thoroughly that they often left guides at Fort York, the Ontario Legislative Assembly, and on the "Ghosts of the University of Toronto" walking tour speechless with their great memories and insightful questions.

I knew that these students had academic "know-how" and clout, but I was charmed by how outgoing, personable and friendly they were as well. We had a bit of downtime after dinner on Saturday June 11, and so we walked near the University of Toronto Athletic Centre. The students asked some players there if they could borrow their ball, and with some help to hold up the damaged net, they played a little 5-on-1.

B-ball in action

The entire 2016 Provincial delegation

I truly can't say enough wonderful things about these six students, who quickly formed ties with me and among themselves. Our joyous team was often the last ones into establishments because we were busy snapping group photos together. They had a good sense of humor (even though there were some pretty dreadful and cringe-worthy lines shared). They were considerate and generous with their time. Below is a photo of our group sitting together writing thank you cards, a task required by OHFA. The students I had the privilege of supervising actually asked for more cards, so they could thank more than just one organization or individual.

Writing in the sun at Fort York

I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, because the parents and families I interacted with were just as delightful as the students. Raheem's grandmother went searching for Toronto pins so that the group could reciprocate when given city pins from other municipalities. Ishita's parents drove two team members all the way home so they wouldn't have to take public transit with luggage and projects. 2/3 of the crew had parents and relatives attend the showcase. Their teachers raved about these students of theirs, were obviously proud of their accomplishments and extremely helpful as we organized this trip. Thank you to the following teachers and schools for tolerating all my emails and lunch visits:

Mabel Ifejika from Churchill Heights P.S.
Kris Karm from Dixon Grove M.S.
Grace Lim from Donview M.S.
Ira Metani fromBroadacres P.S.
Peter Tsatsos from Macklin P.S.
Farah Wadia from Agnes Macphail P.S.

The TDSB delegation at the Ontario Legislative Assembly
There are plenty of things I could mention, but no one else will understand who Billy is, or the true pros and cons of being a legislative page. I thanked this group with "musket balls" from Fort York, but I wanted to thank them with words. You students are what makes it worth sacrificing a weekend with my family to be with you. 

I also want to thank the official sponsors of the Fair; Canada's History, Canadian Heritage, Great West, London, Canada Life, Grandmother's Bake Shop, The Ontario History, Humanities and Social Science Consultants' Association, Ontario Power Generation, OHS, OLA, OGS, OWHN, MSHO, AO, and OHRC (yes, a lot of acronyms!) Students came from all over Ontario to attend, and many could not have afforded to come without the financial help from these organizations. There were students from the District School Board of Niagara, Durham, Grand Erie, Grey Roots, Kenjgewin, Kingston, Niagara Catholic, North Bay, Ottawa, Simcoe County, Sudbury, Thames Valley and Waterloo. I hope the other chaperones can say that they had as enjoyable a time as I had. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Stress Symptoms and Strategies

It's been a busy week, but like Jennifer Casa-Todd mentioned in her interview with Doug Peterson, often there are many nuggets of potential blog posts waiting to be developed. I began this post in April and finished it today (June 6, 2016). Since this is right smack in the middle of report card writing, I thought the topic of stress was rather relevant!

Part A: Spring Concert and Signs of Stress

This happened a while ago, as our school prepared for its annual Spring Concert, but I thought the message was worth examining weeks and weeks later.

We have three days of rehearsals, with a walk through (going through the program order with interruptions and corrections), a dry run (going through the program order with the school watching), and a dress rehearsal (going through the program order with everyone in their holding stations, with no interruptions just like it would be during the actual show). The purpose of all these practices is to help students become ready, comfortable, and familiar with the process - including all the transitions on and off stage. We had a special meeting for those students who were involved in multiple performances, so that they would be clear about where they would need to be and when they would go on stage. A certain Grade 3 boy was very worried about forgetting his designated pick-up spot. He kept asking the teachers and his right eye was twitching frequently. I sat down with him without other students and we did some stress reduction exercises. We did "squared breathing" and kneaded the area around our necks and shoulder blades. I also talked to him about being aware of my personal stress indicator. I've learned that when I am particularly stressed, I run my fingers through my hair. Now that I'm aware of this, if I find myself doing this, I realize that I'm starting to become overly agitated and need to calm down. I mentioned that it seemed to me that his twitching eye was a sign that he was too stressed. To help reduce his anxiety over being in the right place at the right time, I gave him a paper copy of the schedule and highlighted when and where he had to be. I described the steps I had taken with other teachers and all of them asked, "So, what's my stress indicator?"

Insight: If we have a critical friend that we trust who can examine us and indicate to us when our "stress signal" is acting up, maybe that will help us manage stress more effectively.

I found this sketchnote by the talented Sylvia Duckworth provides a great list of strategies for recharging, not just over the holidays but throughout the year.

Part B: Red Maple Marketing Campaign and Contagious Stress

On Tuesday, May 31, a group of committed local teacher-librarians and their super-eager teams converged on the Malvern branch of the Toronto Public Library for our annual Red Maple Marketing Campaign. It was wonderful in 2014 and fabulous in 2015 and the inaugural year in 2012 was memorable too. The projects this year were outstanding as well. Agnes Macphail P.S., Brookside P.S., David Lewis P.S., Macklin P.S. and Milliken P.S. participated (with special guest visitors from G. B. Little P.S.) came and our author, Allan Stratton, loved the displays.

Prison Boy

We Are All Made of Molecules

The Truth Commission

Fragile Bones

Uncertain Soldier

Young Man with Camera

The Gospel Truth

More from The Gospel Truth

Animated film summary of Uncertain Soldier

Catherine, Diana, Allan, Alison, Jennifer & Ann

Presentation about The Dogs

Things unraveled a tiny bit when it came time for the "5 minute pitch" spiels to begin. Transition times were extra long this year as teams logged on to their TDSB Google Drive accounts just as they were scheduled to present so that they could show their book trailers and technology-reliant promotional tools. I wasn't worried but I sat next to one of the other teacher-librarians, who not only was acting as official timekeeper, but also very cognizant of the fact that she had to get her students back to school in time for them to get on their school buses to get home. I noticed that her worries soon became my worries and I started to get stressed about how long it was taking everyone to prepare to speak. Usually we are done at 2:00 p.m. but it was more like 3:00 p.m. when the last group ended. (The school that had bused students actually had to leave before seeing the other presentations.) We had to postpone announcing the winner, and we decided that in our anxious, stressed states, it would be better to wait until a day the following week to gather with the judges and film their feedback to share with the teams. (This feedback from authentic sources is one of the most valuable parts of the event.)

Insight: I'm glad that we realized it was better not to push ahead with sharing the winners. I wonder, however, about validating the concerns of colleagues (and of students) without letting their stress become my own.

Part C: TDSB Library Learning Commons Showcase and Sharing Stress Memories

On Friday, June 3, I traveled to Cosburn Middle School for the annual Library Learning Commons Showcase. I really love this venue and method of sharing, because, like a trade show, the communication is much less formal and therefore can be two-way. I used some of my business cards to scratch quick notes to myself to reconnect with certain people about certain things, like

  • Lisa Lewis from John Fisher P.S. about Facing History
  • Tanya Thompson from Bendale Jr. P.S. about MakerSpace tools
  • Jennifer Tong from John Ross Robertson P.S. about the iPad management system and Google Photos
  • Tracy Donaldson from Woburn Jr. P.S. about Sesame vs Seesaw vs Google Classroom
  • Mira Campbell from F.H. Miller P.S. about Book Creator
  • Maaja Wentz from Churchill Heights P.S. about her YA book
  • Michelle Doyl (on the topic I forgot to write down! Darn! STEM maybe?)
  • Joel Krentz from Wilkinson P.S. on the new version of Adobe Voice
  • Diana Will Stork from Huron Street P.S. on preparing kindergarteners for inquiry walks
Kate Tuff was the fabulous site host and she remembered the horrible time I had the previous year about finding her school. I'm glad I actually revealed my troubles to people instead of hiding my shame, because instead of mocking my inability to navigate local streets, I noticed that the tips this year from the amazing Instructional Leaders (Cindy and Fran) included providing a cell phone number, advising presenters on specific streets for dropping items off prior to parking, and other helpful crutches. Because I remembered how stressed out and upset I was last year, I came early, stayed for the whole day, and was lucky enough to snag a spot in the school parking lot. No getting lost for this teacher-librarian in 2016! 

Insight: Stress and negative experiences can be instructional at times, especially after the fact with hindsight. The organizers learned how to deal with directionally-challenged people like me, and I learned how to avoid that terrible feeling of hopelessness by taking steps to be prepared. I brought my cell phone too, just in case!

Here are some photos of the Library Learning Commons Showcase.

Tracy, Lisa, Joel

Jennifer giving me visual clues

Me, with Heather (and who is this again?)

Michelle and her fellow teacher with their work

Love this brainstorm by the Grade 2s!

Inquiry through Language - good point!

Diana's evidence of learning with kindies

Mira's display

My displays (Lego Film & Quiz Bowl / Marketing Campaign)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Important New Mantra

Today's blog post will be very short, because:

a) things are very busy right now - I'm writing report card comments, finishing the school yearbook, finalizing plans for Tuesday's Red Maple Marketing campaign, completing my Library Learning Commons Showcase presentation materials (due this Friday) and other regular teaching and magazine duties

b) I like to provide context for my reflections and I cannot for this particular issue due to its sensitive nature

I've been struggling with a certain situation and I sought some advice. The person I spoke to said something that I've been repeating to as many people as I can, because it is so wise and so true.

What we permit, we promote.

This phrase is easy to say but hard to live up to. It means we have to risk being unpopular or a "stick-in-the-mud" or "overly-politically-correct". I took a hard look at myself and my actions, and when faced with someone saying or doing something inappropriate, I'm more likely to say nothing, or shake my head in silent disapproval. I'd be more likely to excuse my inaction by saying "oh, you know so-and-so; that's just his personality" or "don't take anything what's-her-face says seriously". 

We can't do that. I can't do that any more.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Festival of Trees Perspectives

Last week was a flurry of activity because of the 2016 Festival of Trees at Harbourfront. It is the culminating event for the OLA Forest of Reading program and very exciting to attend. I've written about it frequently on my blog - from 2015, 2014, 2013, and even as far back as 2009.

How you see the Festival depends on your point of view. This year, a good friend of mine had his book nominated for the 2016 Silver Birch Express Award. Liam O'Donnell wrote about what it was like to be giving autographs and sitting on stage in a post on his blog. (Go read it!)

What didn't sink in with me until this week was how different the Festival can appear to the same category of attendee - that is, a teacher.

On Tuesday, May 17, Farah Wadia and I took 25 Grade 7-8 students to Harbourfront for the Red Maple ceremony. We had a blast! Ms. Wadia is a huge fan of author Susin Nielsen and this was the first opportunity she ever had to meet her in person.

Susin was humble, charming and witty. She was patient with the long lines waiting to see her and was so personable to every person who approached her.

I attended a workshop by the author of Fragile Bones, chatted with some fellow teacher-librarians, and had a few of my school's Blue Spruce books signed by the author.

Where were the students during all of this? Ms. Wadia is incredibly organized and really helps her students become independent and responsible individuals. We had a meeting before the trip to review expectations and the students were permitted to determine their own agendas that day and explore Harbourfront in small groups without a teacher by their side constantly. The students were fabulous. With the exception of some drama on the TTC, there were no difficulties.

On Wednesday, May 18, the Grade 2-6 students who qualified to vote in one of the Silver Birch programs went to Harbourfront. We had 8 supervisors and two school buses. My group contained 9 Grade 2-4 students and it was definitely a different experience than the day before. Due to their age and the size and public nature of the venue, those with late primary or early junior students couldn't let them roam in the same way we could with older children. There was a lot of counting heads and negotiating for what we wanted to do and when. This made it a bit trickier, especially when some children wanted to do one thing that the others weren't keen on. Despite this challenge, we had a fun-filled day. My group bought books and frisbees, decorated their bodies with temporary tattoos, played games that earned them free books, collected some autographs, bought cotton candy, ate lunch, toured a moored sailboat, and attended the awards ceremony. My cell phone died near the end of the day, which wasn't great news because I was the main contact for the bus driver. My Plan B faltered because the portable charger I purchased did not have the correct cord to connect to my phone! Here are some of the photos I took - chosen for use here because you can't see the students' faces.

Playing games for prizes

Visiting the parked police cruiser

Getting autographs from Janet Wilson, author of Heroes

Touring the sailboat

Capturing a sense of the crowd

Seeing Dennis Lee speak at the ceremony
It was enjoyable, but with a lot more responsibility. I heard the Grade 3 teacher mention that it was a bit stressful keeping track of all the children, although in the same breath she said how much fun the children had.

I shouldn't forget the perspective of another group of people - the OLA staff. I saw Meredith and Brian and Annesha and they were working from early morning to late afternoon, for all THREE days of the Festival (because the French programs had their celebrations on Thursday). They must be exhausted but they should also be very proud of themselves for creating a fabulous event. It's a lot of work, but this tweet I shared below reminds us why we do it.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Maybe My MakerSpace Isn't So Miserable

Making things feels so good. This past weekend, I worked on creating my annual Forest of Reading themed outfit that I'll wear to the Festival of Trees celebration at Harbourfront. Usually I decorate a hat, but this year, after being inspired by a conversation with Sarah Oesch, I decided to try and create a cape or scarf. The material was thin so I had to double-side the images. I feel so productive and accomplished!

Red Maple and Blue Spruce book images on!

Arts and crafts supplies at the ready

While I was busy experimenting with this project, my teen daughter was working on her visual arts assignment - a sculpture. She chose to go in a slightly different direction than her original plans and tried using fabric from my mother's vast collection to clothe her woodland nymph. She's not completely satisfied with the final results, but she has a lot of "next time" ideas for improvement.

Woodland nymph by my talented daughter

I've also been hard at work on my school's yearbook pages. We make them using Photoshop. I'm collaborating with the incredibly talented Andrew Li, former Agnes Macphail P.S. student and now McGill University scholar. We send files back and forth with Google Drive and consult each other through Twitter DMs. 

I'm not the only one making things. The Red Maple Marketing Campaign Team from my school has been in the library almost every single recess this week preparing for the video they'll be filming. I wish I took pictures of their behind-the-scenes work because I was blown away by their attention to detail. The team was working on refining makeup techniques, to make students look much older and/or appear as if they've been in a fight. Their "guinea pig" really looked like he had a black eye! (I hope someone can share with me the photos they took documenting their experiments. They have a Prison Boy Facebook page if you're inclined to like it and support their efforts. The photos aren't up there yet but I hope they will be.)

Seeing these things and experiencing them myself makes my heart a bit happier - because when it comes to my school library MakerSpace this year, I've been seriously discontented. Last year, I launched my MakerSpace and it was small but active and growing. In fact, I helped co-host a TL Virtual Cafe session on the topic. 

Without going into too much detail or placing too much blame, my Library MakerSpace derailed. It had to close and change. The revamped MakerSpace didn't attract the same amount of traffic as before. Other educators heard about my forays into Library MakerSpaces and wanted to visit my location, but I turned them down. I wasn't proud of what I had. It wasn't nearly what and where I wanted to be. I steered people to other, more vibrant Library MakerSpaces in TDSB, such as John A Leslie P.S. or Cliffwood Jr. P.S. I talked with others to see how I could revitalize the space, and Ray Mercer's after-school workshop helped clarify issues relating to my MakerSpace "crash".

I was discouraged, despite the fact that Library MakerSpaces, like school libraries themselves, are all unique and reflect the community.
Seeing my intermediate students rushing in on their free time, with their own supplies, to tinker as they chose, made me relieved. Maybe my MakerSpace isn't as much of a failure as I believed it was. Maybe I was too busy comparing it to the fabulous (but intimidating) examples I've seen online. I need to remember Melanie Mulcaster's words from the previous Tweet, and recognize the successes when they happen, even if they are smaller than others. Our Minecraft Club adventures can be considered a creation frenzy, and even the tinier, tidier MakerSpace that I have now is used and enjoyed, albeit by a smaller group of students less frequently.

Marble pathways MakerSpace exploration

Student-led, student-directed making in action

MakerSpace Minecraft style - building a basketball court to use

Individual Minecraft Making projects exist, like this tower
So I'll try to be less hard on myself but still challenge myself to provide opportunities for students to make things that they want, in their own ways on their time. After all, I've felt the benefits that self-directed building/creating/making can elicit, and I hope my students can experience the same emotions and abilities: pride in flexing their creativity and problem-solving, learning as they go.