Monday, December 11, 2017

Teaching About and Through Media As I Learn a Family Tradition

Last Wednesday, I went to my parents' house to participate in and preserve a special holiday tradition: the initial preparation of the Christmas meal of garlic pork.

My mother is 81 and my father is 77; they won't be around forever and their memories are not what they once were. My job was to help out but to record the required steps for making garlic pork. I've attempted this archiving before, but there is one small problem with my previous efforts - I taped it with my video camera on a VHS tape. My parents still own a VHS tape player but we ditched ours ages ago and replaced it with Blu-Ray DVD player. I'm not able to view what I made before. My hope is that by blogging about how to make garlic pork, this media text type will be accessible in the future. Since I always print a bound copy of my blog, compiling the year's posts, I am confident that I will at least have a print version of the instructions.

Echoes of concepts introduced by my media AQ course continued resonate even as I watched, typed notes on an app on my phone, and took photos with a "proper" camera. My mother started to pose for the camera, aware of her invisible audience. My parents' way of preparing this meal and the descriptions they used clashed with the directions that my brother and I needed so that we'll be able to replicate it; (this shows media has social, political, ideological and value messages)

"How much pork do you need to buy?"
"How much is enough?"
"I just eye-ball it."
"But how many pieces?" [runs to package and examines the weight]

Below is the commentary-free, "just the facts ma'am" version of how to make garlic pork, with photos for clarity. As you can tell, I kept all the commentary for the first part of the blog post - you'll notice that Stage 3 of the instructions are a bit vague; we weren't able to pin my parents down to specifics and I have no pictures of this part of the process, because it's done early on Christmas Day morning. Another caveat if you are going to try and make this - eating garlic pork will make you smell strongly of garlic and make you burp! The "cure" is to consume the garlic pork while drinking straight gin. I thought this was just an excuse to drink early in the morning but there must be some sort of folksy reason to it because once I considered myself old enough to drink the gin, the burping wasn't as frequent or as odiferous.

Portuguese-Guyanese Garlic Pork

(A Christmas Day Tradition)


  • 10 heads of garlic
  • 5 bags of oregano
  • wiri wiri peppers
  • vinegar (pickling vinegar or white vinegar)
  • 4-5 pounds of lean pork (e.g. boneless pork loin chops)
  • salt
  • water
  • vegetable oil


- a mill grinder (or small blender)
- 3 large bowls
- 3 large forks or tongs
- 1 big sharp cutting knife
- a glass or mason jar with a secure lid
- a pot for boiling
- a fry pan


A - Making the "Guck"

1) Peel the garlic

2) Grind or blend the garlic with the oregano in a mill (or small blender). Add a couple of wiri wiri peppers for every (or every other) batch ground up, depending on how strong or mild you want the guck to be. 

3) After grinding, add a little bit of vinegar to the ground up garlic, oregano and peppers so that it is the consistency of porridge.

B - Preparing the Pork

4) Remove the fat from the pork and cut into pieces that are approximately 2" x 1" (5cm x 2.5 cm)

5) Prepare three large bowls and three designated forks (use the forks or tongs only with the assigned bowl so you do not contaminate the contents).

The first bowl has room temperature water, enough to submerge the pork.

The second bowl has salt water. (Put 4 teaspoons of salt in the bowl.)

The third bowl contains vinegar and some of the "guck" (2-3 large spoons)

6) Put some pork in the first bowl for about one minute long. Swoosh it around and watch how the water changes colour. You must replace the liquid from the first bowl after every rinsed batch.

7) Shake off the excess water from the pork (using designated fork 1) and transfer the pork to bowl 2.

8) Stir the pork in the second bowl with the designated second fork. It should stay in this liquid for about two minutes. You can change this liquid once you notice that the water is a different colour (not as regularly as you'll have to change the first bowl).

9) Use fork #2 to place the pork into the third bowl. It should stay in this bowl for about a minute.

10) Just before placing the first pieces of the ready pork from bowl #3 into the mason jar, line the bottom of the mason jar with a layer of vinegar and guck so it has a base.

11) Use fork #3 to transfer the pork to the mason jar. Once you have a layer of pork, add more vinegar and guck - don't let the mixture get too dry; it should look moist.

12) Continue to marinate / soak the pieces of pork from bowl 1 to 2 to 3 to the mason jar. Add vinegar, guck, and then about 2 teaspoons of salt to the mason jar. Make sure you do not overfill it. Then, put the lid on the mason jar and seal it. Keep it sealed for two-and-a-half weeks.

C - Cooking the Garlic Pork

13) Boil the pork in some of the liquid that it was pickled in with a bit of water until it gets to the stage where, when you stick it with a fork, it feels soft enough.

14) After boiling it, fry it in a fry pain with a tiny bit of vegetable oil. Turn it while frying and fry it until just before it gets brown. 

I don't know when I'll be brave enough to try and make garlic pork on my own (my husband and children have definitely NOT acquired the taste) but I'm grateful I spent some time with my parents to go over the process and preserve the pork and the tradition.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Play Predicament in my MakerSpace

Every recess, there's a big crowd by the library door, holding passes like they are hot tickets to a rock concert. When the doors open, they rush in and I spend a few minutes at the laptop recording the names of the visitors and their purposes. This wouldn't be possible in a school with a larger population - my school has about 300 students. (It wasn't possible to analyze the data when I once collected this information as a paper sign-in, even with just 300 students. Thank you Francis Ngo for the idea to go with Google Forms!) I make this effort to record visitors, however, because I'm a bit of a data nerd and these sort of statistics might be useful for responding effectively to the needs of my school population and being accountable in my annual report for the school library. I hadn't created an annual report for several years, for many different reasons. I returned to it but I really wanted my quantitative data to mean something more - ergo, the Google Form and the switch from student entry (which used up all their recess time as they lined up to laboriously key in the information) to teacher-librarian entry (because I can type faster and they can go quicker to do what they originally intended).

Since it's the first few days of December, I want to share the findings of my recess visit log here. This tallies all the school days from September 2017 to November 2017. (December 1 was Federation Day so students were not in school while teachers participated in professional learning.)

915 responses, but that doesn't count the amount during book fair that I wrote but never recorded.
142 people came during book fair week. The actual number is ... 1057!

Certain classes have students that use the library more than others.

In case this is hard to see, the big pink slice of the pie is the MakerSpace option.

As you can see, the MakerSpace aspect of the school library is a big hit. The section that I want to highlight in this blog post is the "other" option. The library is supposed to be available for almost any activity, within reason. Many students come to feed or spend time with the skinny pigs, so much so that I'll probably have to create that as a separate category. Several times, children came in and asked "Can I play?"

"Do you mean, use the Makerspace?", I'd try and rephrase.

Some would simply agree. Others would reply with "Play with the Lego"or "Play with that", pointing to one of the bins or boxes I have near the back of the library, filled with balls or dolls or planes.

I was quite stumped. Is play an okay reason to be in the library at recess?

When I'm faced with a moral or pedagogical dilemma, I often turn to others to talk it out and help me sort things out in my brain. This time was no exception. I spoke with Jennifer Balido-Cadavez, an amazing Early Childhood Educator at my school, and with Renee Keberer, the HSP/MART and a close friend. This is just a short pro/con chart highlighting just some of the issues we debated.

  • Increase positive perception of library by students
  • Play is part of learning
  • Recess time is student choice time so they can choose to play
  • Some items don’t lend themselves to outdoor play
  • Calmer, “quieter” atmosphere in library
  • Create negative perception by other teachers of library purpose
  • Messy library
  • Students don’t put away materials
  • Too many students will want to come to the library (supervision issues)
  • Students need to go outside for fresh air

Jen, Renee and I talked about heavy topics like the purpose of recess, student choice, and teacher mental health and well-being. They reminded me that I was not obligated to open the library at all during every single recess. Jen and Renee gave me a lot to consider.

I think I've come up with a compromise that I feel comfortable with implementing.

Giving students "carte blanche" to take anything and everything was almost too much choice. Objects were mislaid or broken when there were too many about. I remember reading that kindergarten teachers will often only put out a few play options so it's not overwhelming.
What I'm doing now is placing a few "play options" out on a visible rectangular table in the library. If students want to play, they can pick from one of the 2-3 items on the table. I'll rotate items out every couple of weeks. When recess is over, as long as they return items to that designated table, I won't panic at the disarray. (I have a pretty high tolerance for mess as it is.) We still have student limitations on the passes - 2 students per class pas - and I've noticed that many of the teachers have arranged systems in their classes to ensure that no one monopolizes the recess library pass and visits are determined fairly and equitably. This means that I will never have more than twenty-two students in the library during recess at one time. (Occasionally a teacher will request that three or four students use the pass simultaneously because the students are working collaboratively on a project, and I've agreed - it's important to be flexible.)

How has the change been going so far? Well, students often ask me to take photos of their work, as some things must be packed away after recess and can't be saved. Here are some of the free time creations.

I'm pleased with how the "play predicament" was resolved in my space. The final proof that I made the right decision came last Thursday when I received a note from four students in Mrs. Commisso's class, thanking me for allowing them to come to the library at recess. (I'll try and post a photo of their sweet note on here with their names obscured.)

Credit should also go to "C", a former student of Mrs. Commisso's who was an equity leader without realizing it. She first questioned the fairness of only permitting junior and intermediate division students in the library at recess and it was her initiative and perseverance that led me to open the school library to all grades at recess, a decision I have not regretted. Thank you to all the students and staff members who have prompted me to examine my teaching practices, ensure they are aligned with my philosophy, and make changes that benefit others.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Important People, Disembodied Participants and Fun in the Sun

It's been weeks since I travelled to Phoenix for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference but there are still some aspects of the trip that I want to think more about. (Thinking is just about all I was able to do this past week, as I lost my voice AGAIN and was limited to whispering or squeaky squawks.) I loved Eva Thompson's blog post (@leftyeva) she called "BIT17 Non Conference Observations" and how it's the little moments that also make a conference special. I wanted to capture a tiny bit of that in my own reflection post.

Important People

I was going to call this section "new connections" but I realized that some of these were "renewed connections".

Lissa Bonnell Davies (@lissabdavies on Twitter)

I've known Lissa before, from online classes at the University of Alberta and at various Treasure Mountain Canada events. At AASL, I had the opportunity to spend more time with her and I'm so glad that we did. She's a teacher-librarian and vice principal in Edmonton, Alberta. Lissa hung out with us at the Conference Celebration at the Corona Ranch and we spent time together at various sessions and did lunch as a group on Saturday.

Almost every time Lissa opens her mouth, I learn something! I've told her that she is incredibly quotable. I missed writing down half the things she said, but she's so down-to-earth and so smart! She recommended books (like Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon) and gave great advice to my daughter on being herself as she makes the transition to university life. 
Irina Tuule (@Eduporium on Twitter)

At a conference with 5000 people, how likely are you to run into the same person all the time? With me and Irina, the answer is "often". Irina Tuule works at Eduporium ( and although I didn't spend a lot of time in the Exhibit Hall, I spent a lot of time bumping into this friendly face!


I can't find the card Connie gave me, which is a big shame because she is someone I want to stay in touch with. How will I do that when I only have a first name? All I remember is that she is a former school librarian in California who is now in a public library space. Connie was super supportive during our Treasure Mountain talk and had so much to offer in terms of her experience. I hope someone can provide her contact information so we can communicate again.

Anne Weglewski

Anne was one of the many people we dealt with behind the scenes before the conference began. She helped me arrange for my daughter's badge, removed one of my sessions, and recalibrated my other sessions so the time wouldn't conflict. At the conference, she helped us figure out how to deal with our luggage, showed us where to meet the shuttle buses for the conference party, and just made sure we were safe and happy. Thanks Anne!

Now, I'm sure I'm forgetting many other people - those like fellow Canadian Marc Crompton who took up photography duty at Treasure Mountain, those who were kind enough to attend one of my workshops, those who stayed behind to help me clean up after my workshops (see, I've forgotten your name already - dang!), those who boogied with me on the dance floor at the ranch or explained things to me at the Phoenix Art Museum. For all those who didn't get a specific mention but should have, thank you for everything. (Like thanks to Victoria Jamieson for signing my copy of her book!)

With Victoria Jamieson and her graphic novel, Roller Girl!

Disembodied Participants

I can't even call them virtual participants! These are friends and colleagues of mine who never intended to go to this conference, but whose presence I felt as I grappled with ideas and listened at workshops.

Michelle Solomon (@msolomonteacher on Twitter)

I knew Michelle first online as part of the Association for Media Literacy and as a participant in the #K12media Twitter chats. I've been fortunate to get to spend more time with her as she helps run the Media Additional Qualification (AQ) course I've been taking. I tweeted at her several times during the conference and afterwards about some of the media related things I saw and the equity concepts.

Jennifer Brown (@JennMacBrown on Twitter)

 I've already gushed at length about Jenn. I was blessed to get to spend time with her at length at Treasure Mountain Canada and it was like she was still with me at AASL. She had her own presentation to worry about that weekend - the MakeChange conference in Toronto - but still engaged with us about what she was hearing from our corner of the world and what she was hearing at her conference.

Lisa Noble (@nobleknits2 on Twitter)

Lisa didn't get a specific Twitter shout-out from me during AASL, but she was at BIT17 and kept us in the loop at that conference. Lisa is so good at pulling me into conversations and deep thinking about ideas and books and more. She's often in my thoughts.

Fun in the Sun

All work and no play makes someone a dull person. My trip to Phoenix was educational and professional, but I also had the opportunity to relax, enjoy the wonderful Arizona weather, and play tourist for a bit. It would not have been half as fun without my delightful travelling companions: my darling daughter Mary, the marvellous Melanie Mulcaster and amazing Alanna King. It was a very jam-packed four days, but in between the conference, we were able to see the Phoenix Art Museum, the Corona Ranch (part of the AASL experience), and my daughter had the chance to go to the Phoenix Science Center and the Phoenix Comic Con Fan Festival. How sad would it have been if all we saw of this super state was the inside of the convention center as we ran from room to room presenting or attending? I can't adequately describe how the warm weather was a balm to our spirits - eating outside was such a treat, especially knowing that it was snowing in Ontario. Thank you Phoenix, Arizona, and AASL! I don't know if I can afford Kentucky in 2019, but it sure is tempting!

On the plane ready to take off for Houston enroute to Phoenix

Exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum

Stained sugar cubes make faces with coffee
Planning our route home and dinner location after the gallery

Entertainment from the Corona Ranch

Palm tree just outside our AZ residence

Monday, November 20, 2017

Famous Canadians Include Evan Munday

My junior and intermediate students are currently involved with an inquiry around the topic of fame. What does it mean to be famous? How do people become famous? Who should be more famous than they might currently be? The students and I have done several activities together to collaboratively investigate these questions. We've brainstormed famous people and examined our lists for commonalities and occupations. We've read a non-fiction article about how to become famous on YouTube, enjoyed a picture book that hinted that fame can be "in the eye of the beholder", and will participate in a lesson I'm developing partly for my Media Additional Qualification (AQ) course on what it means when something "goes viral". One of the other tasks we've jointly undertaken was to explore Twitter. We used our school's Twitter account, @agnesmacphailps, and we took a look at the account of Evan Munday, known on Twitter as @idontlikemunday. We discussed the codes and conventions of Twitter, including the use of hashtags, and then took a look at the hashtag Evan created, #365Canadians. Here is an example, posted recently on Twitter.

Internationally renowned dancer, former principal dancer and now artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, Karen Kain.

Other Canadians that he has profiled in the last few days have included Herb Dhaliwal, Konwatsi’tsiaienni (also known as Molly Brant), Sir Isaac Brock, Barbara Ann Scott, David Suzuki, Mary Marguerite Rose, Leo Major, Albert Mah and Rose Fortune.

In our pre-viewing class discussion, students predicted how many names they'd recognize and what "kinds" of people they'd see. After we scrolled through a dozen or so, we regrouped and analyzed our results. Many of the individuals were unfamiliar to the students.

"I thought I'd know more people because I thought he'd show a lot more politicians", commented one student. (One of our other lessons involved learning a song about the Canadian prime ministers. More on that later.)

I thought it was pretty neat that after I showed the Grade 5-6 class, the students raced to the shelves and borrowed all of Evan Munday's Dead Kid Detective Agency books. When I conducted this exploration with the Grade 4-5 classes, they had even more questions. We did what came naturally - we used Twitter to actually ask Evan Munday himself. The great part is that he replied!

AgnesMacphailPS @AgnesMacphailPS Nov 15
Hey - One of 's Grade 4-5 students wants to know: how did you know or find out about some of the people you draw for ? We hadn't heard of many of them!

Monday, November 13, 2017

AASL Conference Reflections Part 2

Here is the second part of my lengthy blog reflection about my experience at the American Association of School Librarians conference in beautiful Phoenix, Arizona.

American Association of School Librarians 18th National Conference and Exhibition

Beyond the Horizon: November 9-11, 2017 

Saturday, November 11, 2017 - 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Cosplay MakerSpaces
Diana Maliszewski and Mary Maliszewski

Relevant Links

Summary: (taken from
You've heard the term "makerspace". Have you heard of "cosplay"? Often seen and admired at comic and anime conventions, cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game. Cosplayers often make their own outfits, so why not combine cosplay and makerspaces at school? This mother-daughter team will tell their tales of creating costumes and share potential ways to incorporate it into your established or emerging makerspace.

3 Key Points

1) Cosplay and makerspaces have a lot of commonalities.

2) Making clothes or costumes can lead to lots of "extra learning" (about social justice, eco-literacy, math, language, social studies, drama, etc.)

3) Issues surrounding cosplay and makerspaces exist but can be overcome.

So What? Now What?

This was the fourth time that Mary and I have given this presentation. (The other times in 2017 were the OLA Super Conference, the QSLiN conference in Montreal, and the MakerEdTO conference.) I have to confess that it is probably the best crafted workshop I have ever created. (A lot of that can be credited to ETFO's "Workshop Presenter's Palette", the engaging subject matter, and my wonderful co-presenter.) I'm unsure what my next steps will be.

Saturday, November 11, 2017 - Beyond Identifying Fake News: Providing Effective Media Literacy PD for Librarians, Teachers, and Parents

Relevant Links

Summary:(taken from
Fake news has real-world consequences, but the fact is, most adults see themselves as much more media literate than they actually are. How can we provide effective coaching for teachers and librarians so that they are more able to assess their own levels of media literacy and can provide more authentic and productive lessons for their students? Engage in a series of collaborative table discussions and develop a PD exercise to take back with you.

3 Key Points

1) Adults do not respond in the same way that students do when they are part of professional development / professional learning.

2) Using a strategy such as "World Café" helps acknowledge the expertise in the room while still getting people to attentively listen, think, and respond.

3) Media literacy is an important topic and we need to acknowledge our own biases, misunderstandings, and lack of knowledge.

So What? Now What?

I came in a bit late for this session, as it took a long time to clean up after my cosplay makerspace talk. I think my Media AQ course has been too influential on me because I asked the presenters afterwards about the conceptual underpinnings of media studies (i.e. did they use the 8 key media concepts or McLuhan's work) and they hadn't - the focus was more on how to provide PD for adults that may be your superiors or reluctant to learn. I liked the task of synthesizing the vast information (from another group) into 5 take away points - let me think about how to use that with my students.

Saturday, November 11, 2017 - 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Light It Up Blue: Adapted Library Techniques for Students on the Autism Spectrum and Non-Categorical Disabilities
Heather Baucum

Related Links
(This leads to an adapted book flyer PDF)
(This is the slide deck)

Summary:(taken from
Regular library story time can be easy to achieve, but what do you do with your growing population of students who are on the autism spectrum or have non-categorical disabilities in their library time? Come learn some new techniques to adapt books and engage students on a sensory level to build a love of the library and literature.

3 Key Points

1) Don't lower your expectations just because a student has autism - they can do things even like green screen projects with the right amount of support and modifications.

2) It takes a village to educate children - be aware of their IEPs and strive to support their IEP goals through the library and your programming. Goals may be things like fine motor skills, attending, social skills, verbalization, following instructions, etc. Strategies to work on these goals can include very tactile tools like Velcro boards, Bingo boards, felt boards, and puppets; or deliberate choices like clear, uncluttered illustrations and books with songs, repetitions, patterns or about students' favourite subjects; or technology like Pebble Go, Super Simple Learning, Pink Fong, Pancake Manor, The Singing Walrus.

3) Be flexible. What works one day might not work the next. Your puppets or stuffed animals may "go walking" for a day. Your manipulatives may be manhandled, broken, or "loved to death". Don't despair and go with the flow.

So What? Now What?
I must admit, although I was keen to attend a session related to ASD, the title worried me because of my somewhat negative opinions of Autism Speaks. I shouldn't have worried - or rather, I should have been more worried about my laptop, which suddenly refused to let me take notes about 3/4 of the way through the talk. (I have notes from sessions all over my laptop and phone, which made collecting the artifacts interesting.) Heather has a son who is autistic and obviously cares about her students, as she peppered her talk with references to specific children. I appreciated that she provided us with two already-made Velcro Board tasks. If I spend time making these kinds of boards, I am going to have to get over that huge hurdle (for me) of "letting go" if the pieces get stolen or destroyed. My next step is definitely to go and look at the IEPs of all the students I see regularly and see how I can alter my program so that I'm helping them with their IEP goals.

Heather's introductory slide

Some of the books and props used by the presenter

Saturday, November 11, 2017 - 3:10 p.m. - 4:10 p.m.
Addressing White Privilege and Unconscious Bias in the Classroom: Becoming an Ally
Jody Gray and Gwendolyn Prellwitz

Relevant Links n/a

Summary:(taken from
Begin to explore how privilege and unconscious bias shape the classroom experience. This session will provide some insight into identifying how our personal identities impact the education experience for students of color. We will introduce ways to explore and challenge our social identities and become allies that contribute to the positive impact of student experiences.

3 Key Points

1) Being an ally is not an identity - it is an ongoing process.

2) A helpful analogy for understanding white privilege is one about boots and sandals. Privilege is like wearing heavy boots, so weighty that you often can't notice when you step on someone's toes. If you can reframe your response when you are called out for a micro aggression by remembering the boot and sandal analogy and tapping into empathy, this will be beneficial.

3) Unconscious bias is part of the reason why education has the desire to be more equitable but often that has not translated into actual progress.

So What? Now What?

I want to be an ally but I think I stink at it. I need to surround myself with those who are better at it (Michelle Solomon, Rusul AlRubail, and Jennifer Brown immediately come to mind) and look at ways I can be proactive instead of reactive and dismiss the erroneous notion some have of colour blindness.

Jody and Gwendolyn

Stay tuned for more AASL related thoughts on this blog page.