Monday, April 25, 2016

Rethink The Box

Sometimes I wish there was more time in the day to do the things I hope to do.
Sometimes I need to curb my enthusiasm.

Thankfully, logistics postponed a new project I wanted to try. I signed up for Rethink The Box but I was just informed by the organizers that they had reached their 20 team limit and I would be on the waiting list. (Not getting accepted meant that there's one week in May where I'll actually be at my school for a full five days - that's not a bad thing!)

What's Rethink the Box? I should have known more about it earlier, because it's led by a lady I know - Sharon Moskovitz. She and Shaun Grant were recently in Cleveland sharing this initiative at #STEMCon. (I saw her tweets but didn't clue in.) 
I should have also been aware sooner because the talented Teresa Allan and Robert Reyes tried it out during last summer's #lmmss STEM-themed summer school.
I only realized what it was all about when I attended Ray Mercer and Shaun Grant's TDSB STEM-DLL (Science Technology Engineering Math Digital Lead Learner) after school workshop on MakerSpaces and STEM last Wednesday.
Back to the question: What's Rethink the Box? Their website, explains it well. Teams (of five students with a teacher) are given a box with some materials inside and challenged to find a solution to a given problem. An example of an open-ended problem is something like "design some assistive technology that would help a student in your school with a disability". What I appreciated was that Ray and Shaun said that the teams could consist of anyone - teachers didn't have to choose their "most successful" students. The extra-special touch is that "real-life" engineers are present to help students convert their ideas and concepts into a physical reality. I could see students really getting excited about something like this. It won't harm my students, however, to wait a year before they experience it for themselves at a board-wide event.

Have questions about #rethinkthebox? Ask @raycmercer, @TeacherHann, @s_m077 or @CanadaGrant on Twitter.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Teaching with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Most professional learning events don't start with acknowledgements and end with tears. The one my staff had on Friday, April 15, 2016 did. It was "The Blanket Exercise" and it gave the participants a different viewpoint for examining issues relating to the aboriginal people of Canada.

Two of our teachers, Siobhan Alexander and Farah Wadia, were taught how to run this intensive and important workshop. It began, like all ETFO events do, with a nod toward the original inhabitants of the land our school rests. I understand, as this blogger points out, that the gesture does not repair any damage that was done, but the gesture was significant enough of a step that some of our staff members suggested that we should include it as a way to begin our monthly character assemblies. (Please add to the comments if you find a link to a resource that provides the names of tribes that originally inhabited the area your school sits.)

Teachers wept when they read and heard about how children were ripped from their loving homes and warehoused in residential schools where many were abused. This wasn't new knowledge for some, but the way it was shared invoked some strong feelings. What I appreciated (although it makes less of an emotional punch) was that the workshop did not begin with the tragedy, but started with triumph. Dr. Nicole West-Burns at the TDSB Beginning Teachers and Mentors Conference last month, said that we should not begin with tales of oppression when trying to "teach equity". (I'm grateful to Brimwood Boulevard teacher Abhi Arulanantham for capturing this visual from that conference and posting it on Twitter and I can re-share it here.)

The same is true for aboriginal education. As tempting as it is to immediately address the injustices perpetrated, it is important to demonstrate that pre-Columbus (and indeed, even pre-Confederation) North America was a busy, bustling place with many cooperating cultures present.

At the end of the exercise, we had a "talking circle" where participants shared their feelings and reactions. I expressed my disappointment in being part of an institution (education) that is meant to enrich the lives of young people but, in the case of residential schools, meant to destroy instead. The impact is still being felt, with the mass suicide attempts in Attawapiskat and the inclusion of the Metis under federal assistance.

I also set myself a goal: I will read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's reports (which can be found by clicking this link).  I'm posting it here as a way to be accountable. It will not be easy to read. I remember studying the Holocaust in Grade 9 and being quite devastated at what I learned about the potential humanity has for evil. (We had to do a novel study from a list of recommended titles - I knew I couldn't handle Night so I chose Alan and Naomi but I still cried for days after reading it.) I vowed to get involved in Wab Kinew's #CraftReconciliation project - I still have to contact the school I wanted to connect with, and we may not meet the original challenge's deadline, but maybe that's not as important. It took generations to commit the wrongs - it will take generations to make things right. Baby steps for me will also include promoting the various materials our school library has to help with positive teaching. (I'll try and remember to take a photo of our display and some of our books, bought from the great Goodminds Resources.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Make the Most of Mandatory PD

This coming Friday, April 15, 2016, our board will have a Professional Development Day. This particular day was not initially in the schedule. At our school, the morning will be devoted to a whole-staff exploration of "The Blanket Exercise" for greater awareness of FNMI issues. The afternoon is dedicated to grade team and division planning as well as time to complete compliance and mandatory training.

I heard through the grapevine that there were quite a few online learning modules to go through and that it would take the entire afternoon to finish them. Would the technology at school cooperate with that many individuals on simultaneously? I decided to get a head start on completing a few of the seven required training sessions this past weekend.

I think it may be common knowledge that professional learning that is self-directed and self-initiated is more powerful and "sticky". If this is true, then how do schools and school boards and other organizations "grab" educators to instruct them on policies or provide content that they are required to have? I'll admit, I wasn't looking forward to devoting time to these mandatory webinars. I did two sessions on AODA (the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) and another called "Anaphylaxis in Schools: What Educators Need to Know" offered by I actually learned things. This is what helped me "get through it".

1) Be aware of (and try to alter) your attitude toward the task.

Yes, I complained about doing it. I gritted my teeth and furrowed my brow. Then, I through the negative feelings behind me and paid attention. I realized that if I continued to harbour any resentment at being "forced" to participate, it'd be less likely that I would find any parts of it useful.

2) Take notes
Even though only a few of the mandatory training sessions required me to recall information and take a quiz to "prove" I paid attention (not necessarily the best method to ensure compliance, as answers can be shared - teachers can be just as naughty as students when it comes to beating tests!), I took notes for each session. It made me accountable in a way that just "sit 'n git" doesn't manage.

3) Make connections to your own teaching practice and experiences

As part of the AODA compliance training, there was a sheet of "reflection questions and conversation starters". It asked things like "What are the gaps between your current and desired practice related to principles of accessibility in your school?" Those are good questions to ask. Originally, I was going to focus this week's blog reflection just on answering those questions, and I may yet return to them in a future post. With my anaphylaxis training, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable because of my own experiences on the receiving end of a epinephrine auto-injector (twice). Yet, I realized that there were still ways I could improve the way I handle these emergencies as an individual with life-threatening allergies.

I appreciated the ways that the creators of the learning modules tried their best to make the content less dry and multi-modal (with videos, animation, closed captioning, mini-evaluations, and other strategies). I still have to do sessions on Asbestos, Health and Safety Awareness, Workplace Violence, and WHMIS, but hopefully if I remember my own trio of tips, it won't be a bitter pill to swallow, but some helpful medicine to keep everyone mentally, physically and academically healthy.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Autism POV

Saturday, April 2, 2016 was World Autism Awareness Day. The hashtag #LIUB was used online and many public buildings changed their illumination to "light it up blue" to recognize the event.

The TCDSB had a Autism Awareness evening at their board office on March 31, where many students with autism spoke and performed. (Interesting fact: #samthedancingbarista, aka Sam Forbes, is a TCDSB student and spoke to the crowd about his experiences with getting a job and his viral video.)

However, there was an interesting alternative position that I only saw through Twitter, and only knew about because of some of the people and organizations that I follow, particularly @autselfadvocacy: #RedInstead, where people are encouraged NOT to wear blue but instead wear red. Supporters of this initiative call it Autism Acceptance Month, not Autism Awareness Month.

Why the opposition? The driving force behind the #LIUB campaign is an organization called Autism Speaks.  This infographic outlines the significant problems some have with this charity.

(This tweet below leads you to a larger flyer image, which may be easier to read.)

The source for this infographic is missing - which is unfortunate, because citing the resource would legitimize it further. It's difficult to get "objective" information on this topic, especially when it's a very personal issue for many.

I'm trying to figure out how to have this potentially-sensitive exploratory conversation in a way that doesn't alienate but illuminates. How can I find out if the board I work for, or the board that my own children attend, prefers one charity over another? I have my ideas, based on observations. How can I encourage the consideration of alternate points of view? Are other groups like ASAN too "radical" for an educational institute to support as publicly? Is it possible to accept both the "narrative of 'autism parents'" (credit to @captn_audmerica for the turn of phrase) as well as the #ActuallyAutistic? Is it possible to like programs such as PAST but also express admiration for views such as the one expressed in this website: These are questions I'm still seeking answers for, in respectful ways. Wish me luck.

Monday, March 28, 2016

How Much Effort is Too Much?

Two apparently disparate topics merged as I thought about today's blog post.

1) Clipping the Skinny Pigs' Nails

On Easter Monday, schools are closed but malls aren't. This made it possible for me to take my three skinny pig boys to the pet store to have their nails trimmed today.

Owen, the free-range pig (spoiled rotten!)

Kirby, the timid chitterer

Vanilla, the school pet (minus Chocolate, RIP)
It's quite the ordeal to catch and pack every pig in his own carrier and drive to another city to have their claws clipped. I usually need the entire family to help out with carrying a pig. Most people I know that own guinea pigs clip the nails themselves. I don't. I don't feel comfortable doing it. I worry about nicking a blood vessel, especially in the darker nails like Owen has. I don't like holding them in the way you must do to stop them from squirming and to access their paws to do the job. Yet, it's a lot of work (and frankly, much more expensive) to maintain their nails the method I use now - by paying others to do it. I know of a vet technician who is willing to come to my house to clip them on-site, but I haven't called him yet; that service is even more expensive.

2) Preparing for the Kindergarten Performance for Spring Concert

Our school's Spring Concert is scheduled for the end of April, but I've been working on the performances since February. Instead of combining all three kindergarten classes into one act, like I did for the Winter Concert, I've arranged for each class to have the stage to themselves.  In addition, their performances will combine dance, drama and music, unlike the last time when they just sang a single song. I really wanted parents to be able to see their children in a smaller group and doing various things (not just singing).
One group has a puppet theme; another class has a puppy theme. I only see the third class for music, but they will be doing a robot theme - their dance/drama teacher coordinated with me and she has been working just as hard selecting music, choreographing moves, and arranging costumes. My brother has helped me locate and purchase costumes and props for the show. One of the kindergarten teachers has been building marionette contraptions for us to use. I need to hand write a score for the music teacher to play some piano accompaniment.
Some people have said not to make such a big deal about what they are wearing or the type of music they'll perform to (live vs recorded), because they'll be adorable regardless of what they do. Part of me understands the sentiment, but a stronger part of me wants to ensure that the performance we share is well-rehearsed and appealing not just to the parents but to the entire audience.

The common link between these two events: How much effort is too much? Should I try to learn how to clip my pets' nails? Should I concern myself less with polishing the performance? Instead of considering my own opinions, I can reflect on those it directly involves - the skinny pigs and the kindergarten students. I think that the skinny pigs, although they don't like being carted out of the house to the mall and back, benefit from having someone who is confident in their handling abilities to quickly and safely cut their nails. With the kindergarten students, as long as the practices aren't onerous and the preparations-outside-the-class aren't interfering with their fun and learning, it's okay to try to make the show the best it can be. I won't panic if things don't go exactly as hoped or planned, but if I'm willing to make the effort and no one is forcing me into it, then maybe, just maybe, it's worth the drive to Pickering or worth the extra hours or cash to make it happen. Thoughts?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Whole Class vs Tutorial Instruction - for Adults

Can I just point people to this blog post when they ask what I did for March Break?

My March Break was relaxing but full. My family and I visited friends to play RPGs and went downtown to the ReLab at Ryerson University for a GamingEdus mini-reunion and facility tour. My car tires were changed and repairs were made - costly, but necessary.

I also taught.

My husband and I are the Lead Couple Facilitators for our church's Marriage Preparation Course. (I've written about it on this blog before.)  The six-week, twelve-hour course is intended for engaged couples to understand "what they're getting into" and learn strategies for improving communication, conflict resolution, increasing intimacy and discussing challenging but important topics.

The St. Barnabas 2016 Marriage Prep Grads: Group 1

The St. Barnabas 2016 Marriage Prep Grads: Group 2

The St. Barnabas 2016 Marriage Prep Grads: Group 3

This year, I felt terribly guilty. I was unable to attend three of the six sessions, because of prior commitments (the TLLP Summit, a TVO Teach Ontario webinar, and my uncle's funeral in Montreal). In our revised course, attendance is a priority. If a participant misses a class, he or she is obligated to arrange for a make-up session with one of the facilitators at a separate time. (We're pretty strict about this but for good reason; every class has vital content that can't be skipped.) Because I was the only facilitator to miss so many classes, I volunteered to be the instructor for any couples that missed lessons. This year, we actually had two couples that needed extra multiple classes. Before the course officially ended, I met with the pairs and scheduled a "remedial" session for each during March Break, at their respective homes.

Before arriving at their residences, I wondered how the teaching experience would differ from two instructors addressing a room of thirty-two participants to a single facilitator with just two individuals. I examined the presentation plans (one which is usually done by another couple) and tweaked them as best as I could.

There are a lot of parallels to working with engaged couples and students in school. There are some advantages to working with a large group (aka whole class instruction) but there are also some benefits to working with less people (aka small group or tutorial). A large group can provide a special kind of energy as people bounce ideas off each other and learn from each other. Certain activities work better with a larger group. Yet, having a smaller group means that you can target discussion and directions more to assist the specific learners. The teacher's attention is less divided and there's time to get personal. With less people, I thought we'd whiz through the content; however, each small group meeting went for over three hours! It was illuminating to get to know the couples more in depth. We practiced the skills (especially creating "I-Messages") with more examples and more feedback. It also felt very rewarding afterwards because, by working closer with a smaller group, it was clearer to see that progress was made.

We try hard during our Marriage Preparation classes to offer both whole class and small group instruction, but it's tricky. We establish "mentor couples" to sit at the same table with the same small team every week for book discussion so that rapport can be built (and it is), but as the photos indicate, these groups reduce the ratio from 32:2 to 10:2 - smaller, but not as conducive for very personal discussion like the 2:1 balance I had during the rescheduled, individualized classes. We'll be recruiting more mentor couples and sending them for training with the Archdiocese. As for "regular school", I need to make sure that I continue to vary the size of my groups. I must ensure that at some point, I get to work individually with students, so we can have those bonding conversations while getting specific with feedback and assistance. I may not be able to book a time to visit them at home for a personal tutorial, but I've got from September until June to make time.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lead by Error

I am blessed and honoured to work with some pretty exceptional teachers. I am fortunate that they are willing to co-teach with me, the teacher-librarian. Something happened during one of those "partner times" that made me say to myself, "I gotta blog about that!"

Let me tell you a bit about Lisa Daley. Lisa Daley is an experienced classroom teacher with a calm demeanor, a passion for continually learning, and the patience of a saint. When I approached her about working together this year, she was enthusiastic about the prospect. She suggested a topic that she herself wanted to learn more about and one that she believed her students would be very interested in as well: stop motion animation

Lisa Daley, amazing classroom teacher!

Lisa and I sketched out a plan that would integrate health, oral communication, reading, writing, media and ICT. This was our plan. (Not all partner plans look this polished. We typed it up to share with the teachers who visited our Exploration Classroom on February 17.)

Collaborative Co-Teaching Plan

Grade: 3         Teachers: Maliszewski / Daley          Topic: Health / Oral / Media / Writing


Language 2.5 = identify some vocal effects, including tone, pace, pitch, and volume, and use them appropriately and with sensitivity towards cultural differences, to help communicate their meaning
Language 2.1 = write short texts using a variety of forms
Language 2.7 = make revisions to improve the content, clarity, and interest of their written work, using several types of strategies
Language 3.4 = produce media texts for specific purposes and audiences
Healthy Eating C3.1 = explain how local fresh foods and foods from different cultures can be used to expand their range of healthy eating choices

End Goals

By the end of the unit, students will … create a Lego stop-motion animation film based on a narrative focused on healthy eating.

Schedule: Day 2   Period 3-4                         Timeline (Lessons)

Week 1

Jan. 11/16
-          Modeled writing / brainstorming with partner
-          Read “Wrapped” stories > how might they end?

Mali – find food theme stories
Week 2

-          Finish reading other story possibilities
-          Identify parts of a narrative template
Daley – find narrative template
Week 3

Jan. 25/16
-          Show part of The Lego Movie
-          Expand on ideas from template to text
 Mali – bring movie & install app
Week 4

Feb. 1/16
-          Continue writing story end with a partners
-          Explore how to use StoMo App
Daley – directly teach healthy eating ideas
Week 5

Feb. 8/16
-          Revise story endings
-          Learn how to use a Storyboard to plan film

Mali – find storyboard
Daley – start edits
Week 6

Feb. 16/16
-          Film story endings
-          Recording the audio of your story EFFECTively


  • Narrative template (diagnostic FOR)
  • Story finale (use rubric and/or student generated success criteria) (summative OF)
  • Post-task interview (AS)
  • Stop motion film & accompanying audio (OF)

Collaborative teaching times are precious and few in my schedule, so in March, I had planned on ending this team-teaching unit with Lisa so that I could give another class a chance. The students in Ms. Daley's class hadn't finished their projects, but there are times where the teacher-librarian can't be there for the entire process. Still, this past Wednesday, Lisa saw me walking in the hall right after the recess bell rang and asked if I was available to come to class for at least part of the time, so that I could help them add audio to their video. I agreed.

Lisa does not get enough credit for her technological know-how. Lisa also shows a lot of professional respect for her colleagues, even when they mess up royally.

I popped in and mentioned Tool X or Tool Y as options for recording, and then Tool Z as a way to combine the audio with the video made earlier from Tool A & B.

(Side note: we recommended Tool B after Tool A, my initial recommendation, no longer became available on the iPad App Store before we loaded it on all the devices. Ms. Daley, the students and I found Tool B already on the iPads and determined that it did the same task just as well.)

 After I rattled off this explanation and then released the students off to work, Lisa quietly asked me, "Isn't it possible to use Tool Z to record the audio directly, instead of choosing a separate audio tool?"

*face palm*

This was the easiest solution. Why didn't I think of it? (I think I know why - it was because when my son and I made this mini-film, we didn't own Tool Z and so we used three separate programs to put it together.)

We still had one of the original problems we started out with: Tool X consolidated the data upside-down. I prepared to do a serious online search to determine the answer - until I turned my head and saw Ms. Daley, the same teacher who wanted us to work together so that she could learn more about stop-motion animation, solve the issue in Tool Z with a twist of her wrist. I had no clue it was that simple!

Okay, so I *may* have actually bowed at her feet at this point in the lesson. I ended up staying the entire double-period because it was so exciting for the students to get closer to completing their projects. They obviously took a great deal of pride in their work. Students who usually don't get along as smoothly were cooperating, designating tasks and progressing well. Lisa and I suspect that they might actually finish their movies by the end of the month.

I made a point of not mentioning the specific tools that we used for this task. I did it so that the focus of the tale could be more about critical thinking, instead of on using software. Supposedly, I was the "technology leader" in this partnership but it certainly didn't look that way; Lisa, in her generous and kind way, reassured me that I didn't abdicate my job but that we problem solved together and now she knows a lot more about how to undertake a project like this.

I called this post "Lead by Error" because it was thanks to the mistakes and mis-steps that our learning was deepened. In the CLA document Leading Learning, under the strand "Cultivating Effective Instructional Design to Co-plan, Teach and Assess Learning" we would have remained in the evolved stage of Instructional Partnerships had it not been for my failures; instead, because that awesome teacher took it as an opportunity instead of a stumbling block, our partnership "foster[ed] student and teacher technological capacities and digital literacies". Thank you so much Ms. Daley for modeling such a positive attitude towards learning - and not getting fed up with me! I'll post some of the Grade 3 final products when they are completed.