Monday, March 25, 2019

Full STEAM ahead with Blue Spruce Books

We're back from March Break and it feels as though we never left!

It's been a busy time in the school library and when I contemplated what to write about for this week, I took a peek at the photos I took. There were a lot of moments from the kindergarteners and the work they did related to this year's Blue Spruce nominees. I thought I'd highlight a few of our projects, give credit where we need to, and then get political at the end.

For the book Where Oliver Fits, the students created "pictures" using the flat shape blocks. Then, they worked with a partner. The original creator took away a piece of their picture and the friend had to determine what was missing. We all fit; we all belong.

For the book I Like Sharks Too, the students looked at a tutorial that showed them how to draw sharks. Then, after several practice attempts on mini-chalk boards, they created puppets that were "sharks on straws" and filmed them swimming in the ocean using green screen technology.

For the book The Magician's Secret, the students built a "story tunnel" using rods and connectors. Small groups collaboratively created an adventure story like the one the grandfather in the book makes, and then we programmed the Ozobot to "walk through" our story. We also drew and built artifacts for our personal group story.

 For the book Sun Dog, the students examined the illustrations and how they were created. They listed the Arctic animals mentioned in the story, selected one, and then used plasticine to make the animal and a background. They explored with blunt tools to make texture to resemble things like fur.

Credit time! Very few of these ideas came from me. Huge thanks goes to my dear friend, Peel District School Board teacher-librarian Melanie Mulcaster. Her site, Forest of Making 2019, is a treasure trove of multiple ways to explore the ideas and themes from the book in a hands-on way. I've written about Melanie before on this blog (and her Forest of Making site as well) but it deserves more recognition.

Credit also needs to go to Thess Isidro and Jen Cadavez, the Early Childhood Educators in two of the kindergarten classes. Their input cannot be underestimated. Thess was the one who thought up of the plasticine art activity for Sun Dog and she led the lesson. Being the modest person she is, in her Facebook post, the light shone on the student artists and on me, unnecessarily. As for Jen, she has been so good with extending the time for these activities into regular class time and sacrificing her own time to rearrange schedules to make completion possible. We only have a 40 minute period for media and many of these tasks take much longer. She is also the "wellness thermometer" and knows exactly the right things to say to students who get distraught when we have to leave the library and the activity isn't completed. Last year, the two of us designed some activities together for a Blue Spruce nominated book.

Here's where it gets political. The current provincial government has made some serious cuts to education. They've increased class sizes in Grades 4-8 and high school. I can't find the Facebook post that alerted people to a polling survey being used via phone that asked citizens about their opinions on how to staff kindergarten classes, suggesting that the current model of a OCT certified teacher and a registered ECE together could be replaced. Despite claiming that kindergarten caps will stay in place, there's no guarantee that kindergarten as it stands today will stay. (See this CBC article from February 2019 about potential kindie cuts.)

I could not do what I do with our kindergarten students without the help of another qualified adult like the ECEs. Even in the smaller kindergarten class at my school that does not have an ECE, often the classroom teacher will come in and permit extra time to complete these activities, working together with me as a similar type of team. Be wary of "cost-saving measures" in education. Read from many different sources about what might be axed and why. If, like me, these actions concern you, make your opinion known. This ad, produced by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, appeared in the Toronto Star on March 16. I'll end today's blog, about programs and educational professionals who make it possible, whose jobs could be in peril, with this thought.

Monday, March 18, 2019

March Break: What I Should vs What I Want

March Break came at just the right time. I needed to recharge my batteries, take a breather, and catch up. My week was filled with activities, but I didn't approach all of these events with the same enthusiasm. Here's a chart, which is a replica of my calendar.

2 of the 3 Cosplay Sisters making wishes come true at Toronto Comic Con!
Follow them on Twitter/Instagram at @CosplaySisters

March 11
March 12
March 13
March 14
March 15
March 16
March 17
Morning =
Fix glasses
Afternoon =
Morgan &
Evening =
visitation /
Cross Fit
Morning = Oil
change /
Mary &
/ Funeral
Afternoon =
with Denise
Morning =
Afternoon =
Help Mom
clean her
sewing room
Evening =
Cross Fit
Morning =
Afternoon =
Make Up
Class session
Evening =
Prep class
Morning =
sewing dress
at sewing
Afternoon =
glasses for
Evening =
Comic Con
Morning =
carpet store
Afternoon =
Drop off
library book /
Grocery shop
Evening =
Movie night
with family
Morning =
Afternoon =
Evening = Mark
prep school

(Apologies if the text does not appear nicely on the web page; I had to tinker a bit with it and it didn't always fit as it should.)

There were several tasks that aligned more with things I "should do" versus the things that I "wanted to do". Funerals are never fun, but I wanted to go to pay my respects to one of my mother's dear friends, Pat Puddister. (Rest in peace, "Auntie PP".) Errands weren't particularly onerous, as long as they didn't take too long. Visiting my friends was a definite bonus.  Racing to finish my costume in time for Toronto Comic Con was hectic, but satisfying.

Tangent time: I knew I'd be going to Toronto Comic Con for a day with my son and daughter, but only decided at the last minute that I'd try to complete my cosplay outfit so that I could wear it at the convention. This costume was more detailed than many of my previous creations. I had been working on it slowly for several weeks. With guidance from my Toronto Parks and Rec instructor, Natalie, I had made my own pattern, pinned and cut out the pieces, and pinned them together. My last step was a scary one for me - I had to sew them all together. I couldn't go to Natalie, so I turned to Cathy, the lady that I purchased both of my sewing machines from at Sew Here, So Now.

Cathy had offered, once I bought my machines from her, to support me in any way I needed if I was in the middle of a project. I tried to go on Thursday morning, but she wasn't in the store. So, on Friday morning, the day of the convention, I hustled to her store to finish the dress. I even forgot my cell phone because I was in that much of a hurry to get her help. (This is why I have no photos of the final steps I took. All of these photos are the shots of me working on Thursday to cut, notch and pin the other side of the dress.)

Cathy was rather surprised to see me there.
"You can do it", she said. "Just sew it."
"I just need you near", I explained. "In case things go wrong"
I wasn't sure how to lay the material out on my sewing machine to start.
Cathy showed me how, and also showed me a new setting on my Pfaff machine that allowed me to do "stretch stitching", which she said would be better for the type of fabric I was working with for this project.
My first attempt caught the material in the bottom. Cathy came over and adjusted a few things and then had me continue on my own.

It took a while, but I did it. I finished sewing the dress.Cathy's presence gave me the confidence I needed to get the basics done. I didn't bother with hemming the bottom, the neck hole or the arm holes, because there wasn't a lot of time. I still had to go home and figure out how to make my character's visor.

Here is a photo of the character from My Hero Academia that I was trying to portray: Recovery Girl. I bought the wig, boots, gloves and lab coat (thank you Value Village for the coat!), made the dress, and temporarily skipped doing the big needle cane and the belt. The trickiest part for the costume was how to mimic those big pink things on the side of her head. I actually found a visor on the ground and covered it with purple cellophane to look like the glasses. In the end, I settled on a temporary measure. I took two juice boxes, covered them with pink foam, and slipped them over the arms of the visor.

It worked! My daughter, the regular cosplayer, didn't have her outfit "con-ready", so she wore regular clothes. My son wore his Deku costume from the anime/manga My Hero Academia. We posed for photos and got compliments from other conference attendees. We even posed with other people who were decked out in similar, My Hero, outfits. My son doesn't like posing for photos with strangers as much as I do, but he survived.

Recovery Girl and Deku, aka me and my son, at Toronto Comic Con!
(I return to my regularly scheduled blog post thread.)
So, if all of these things were tasks I wanted to do, what was it that I didn't want to do?

Two things: cleaning, and doing school work.

You can tell that I wasn't too keen on marking, because despite all good intentions, I left it until Sunday afternoon to attack. I like the results of cleaning, but my husband will attest that I do not like to clean, and my mom wasn't thrilled with the idea of getting rid of anything in her filled-to-capacity-but-never-used drawers.

What does this indicate to me? I hope no educator actually gave any assignments to do over the March Break. If I didn't want to mark them or work on them, as the teacher, I doubt any students would want to complete them during a vacation. If students chose to do things related to school, that's different from feeling obligated to work. Not everyone is privileged enough to get to travel or attend cool in-town events during the week away from school, but the antidote for boredom is not giving school-related tasks. I'm sure that once the busy post-March Break school season begins, I'll regret not using some of my "free time" to finish things, but like I said at the start of this blog post, I needed a rest, and I got it. (No knocks against some of my teacher friends who spent their whole time working on school-related stuff - I'm looking at you, Salma Nakhuda - but as long as it was your choice, I accept and support you!)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Bring the Hair Salon to School

Me after the transformation, Nicole and Alex
Last Monday, March 4, 2019 I had two special guests come to my school. Nicole is my hair stylist, and her friend Alex is a videographer. The purpose of their visit was to colour and cut my hair in front of several groups of students, as part of the students' media studies about hair.

Neither Nicole nor Alex are certified teachers, and they don't do school visits, but both of them did a phenomenal job of answering the students' questions, explaining the process in an understandable way, and keeping the students interested. I was really grateful that Alex was there to record the whole procedure. It's hard to take photos when you are the one having things done to you! Plus, while Nicole and I were washing the dye out in the sink, Alex took the time to explain what he was doing while capturing it all, from different angles and with specific shots.

Nicole's "tool kit"
 Nicki has been my hair stylist for a very long time, and I trust her with my hair because she's incredibly talented. There have been many times in the past where I've seated myself in her chair and told her to do whatever she wanted. This was the case with my "hair salon at school" session.

I've allowed my students in the past to vote on what colours they'd like me to dye my hair and I've complied. It's not that radical of a concept. Hair colour, unlike tattoos, isn't permanent. Hair can grow out, and when you have an expert like Nicki behind the bottle, chances are that even the most outrageous colour choice will turn out. (The exception was when I tried to dye my hair at home on my own using Kool Aid. Thankfully, Nicki was around to fix the disaster the next day.) I've had blue hair, red hair, brown hair, blonde hair, pink hair, purple hair, black hair and silver hair, as well as some colour combinations. The one colour I haven't done is green, and that's at the request of my long-suffering husband. He asked for no green because he doesn't want me "to look like a super-villain". This actually made for a good class discussion about how hair communicates messages.

It's been actually quite a while since I last coloured my hair.  (I checked photos, and it looks like it was the summer of 2018.) I'm surprised I've lasted this long. Usually I get bored with my current hair colour and ask for a change. I've been comfortable with my silver and white locks, despite the implied, stereotypical message that my hair suggests, that I'm "old". Changing it again, for the sake of student learning, was an easy choice.

Showing dye
I didn't give the students a choice this time on what my new hair colour would be. Part of the reason was because I didn't have time to survey all the students. Part of the reason was, despite all our conversations about how hair communicates certain messages, many young students were enamoured with the idea of my having rainbow coloured hair. I think one of the (many) things that they learned with Nicki's visit is that changing your hair colour takes a LONG time.

Close-up views of the 
Nicki decided that she would colour my entire head purple, then pull out several strands at the front, bleach them so they'd hold the colour more - this was one of the many science-related things the students and I learned about hair from Nicki - and then colour those strands pink. We began at about 1:00 pm with the Grade 3 class, continued with the Grade 5-6 students watching, and ended at 3:00 pm after a post-recess visit from the Grade 1 class and a period with the Grade 1-2 class. Some of the other classes were disappointed that they did not get a chance to see the transformation in person and asked if I'd be dyeing my hair again in a couple of weeks. I explained that it wouldn't be healthy for my hair and that, thanks to Alex, they'd get to see a video compilation of the process. I didn't expect for them to make an educational video, but I'm so glad that that's the plan.

Some of the things we learned included the role of melanin and pigment in hair colour. Nicki explained why white / grey hair loses its colour and how it often needs to be treated so that it will "accept" artificial colours. She talked about the role of oxygen and heat in changing hair colour. She mixed chemicals like peroxide and dye in front of them (safely, I promise!) and gave students a close-up view of the cap she used on me to separate the hair so she could bleach strands.

She answered a lot of questions about how she learned to be a stylist. This was a great opportunity for my students to hear about other career paths. So many of our students are pushed to study at university and we don't always emphasize the trades enough. Working as a tricologist / cosmetologist / hair stylist is truly a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) profession. Nicki showed them how she measured with her fingers while cutting and this was real-life math in action. Mixing chemicals is hands-on science.

Photo I shared on Twitter of the talk
I think Nicki and Alex were equally as impressed with our students as they were of them. One of my students asked about "ombre" hair and a Grade 1 boyknew how bleach worked. An older student asked about a Japanese chemical technique for curling or straightening hair (I can't recall which) and asked for Nicki's opinion on the process. One student described the scent of one of the chemicals as "like watermelon" and we had to agree with that unexpected observation. Despite one of my Grade 2s yelling "This is boring" (which he does in class regularly, so this wasn't a surprise), all of the students really were captivated. I can hardly wait to share the video that Alex makes (which itself will be a perfect media learning opportunity, to see how over two hours of filming gets pruned and edited to be a much shorter, more shaped experience).

Until the final video is ready and available to be shared, watch this short Facebook video of Nicki and Alex's reaction to their visit.

If you'd like to hire Alex or Nicki, follow:

  • @labmediacompany on Instagram for Alex's photography and cinematography services
  • @komotria.official on Facebook for Nicki's hair salon services
  • @komotria_official on Instagram for Nicki's hair salon services

Monday, March 4, 2019

Birthdays - Little Gestures Make Big Impressions at 47

When my son and daughter were little, I loved planning elaborate parties to celebrate their birthdays. We'd have a theme, and take tons of photos, and make some cool memories. Once they hit the teen years, the extravaganzas ended. Going out to dinner was enough. Birthdays aren't as big of a deal once you pass a certain age, it seems.

Friday, March 1, 2019 was my 47th birthday. I didn't have a lot planned. The night before, I went out to dinner with my husband and my sister, who is visiting from Calgary. The timing was just a happy coincidence. After dinner that night, we spent some time with my parents, taking selfies with my mother, trying to teach her how to make "duck lips" and watching funny animal videos on YouTube with Mom and Dad.

Like I alluded, I didn't expect much from my actual birthday. My parents aren't so sharp with dates anymore, so I didn't expect any phone calls. I just planned a regular day at work, some Auntie Mary's fish and chips for lunch (my favourite source of halibut) and our regular Cross Fit workout in the evening.

Well, it turns out that there was a lot more recognition than I expected, and from unexpected corners - the staff and students at the school where I work. Mrs. Isidro, one of our talented ECEs, brought me a present (thank you Thess for the journal, hot beverage mug and cold beverage cup!) Mr. Roberts' Grade 7s came down to the library as a group to sing "Happy Birthday" to me, and they drew some art on their blackboard for me. They weren't the only singers and artists. Mr. Tong and Ms. Chiu's students sang, as did Ms. Wadia's Grade 8s. Ms. Wadia's class also took time to decorate a blackboard for me. A crew from Ms. Daley's class ran downstairs after school to say Happy Birthday. There were a lot of well-wishes.

Posing near the board designed by Ms. Wadia's students

The simple but sweet drawing in Mr. Roberts' class
Then there were the kind words from cousins, colleagues and friends on Facebook and on Twitter, as well as my Sweat 60 instructor and workout buddies in person. I have to say, I was really touched by all the efforts made to let me know that I was in people's thoughts on my "special day". I know it takes little time for us on social media to see the notification and quickly type a birthday greeting, but that people take the time really means a lot. I was really taken with the Grade 8 tribute board, because hidden on the board are lyrics from songs I sang to them when they were in kindergarten, as well as the famous "media definition" that they can still recite. Knowing that some teaching of mine still "sticks", nearly a decade later, is one of the best gifts a student could give me.

Thank you everyone (I can't list them all - it was over 60 notifications on Facebook alone!) for your birthday wishes. It is the little things that can be a big deal. When my cousin Beth told me she reads this blog regularly and made a point to ask about my skinny pig, that makes me feel I matter, even when I don't get to see her that often. Keep sharing those kind words and making those what-seem-like-little gestures - you never know how uplifting they can be.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Big Bumps and Pinned Parts

I couldn't decide between two events to write about, so I'm going to write about both because I think they have some themes in common (although hubby says I'm stretching it a bit).

Big Bumps

On Thursday, one of the Grade 6 students who comes in regularly to the library at recess made an observation that led to a $200 bill and some authentic writing for a group of younger students.

"What's the matter with Ernie?", he asked.

Ernie, our school's skinny pig, had a huge swollen mass on his neck. It wasn't there the day before. It didn't seem to be bothering him particularly, but a big bump that appears overnight is not something a pet owner can ignore.

Ernie with his big bump!

I hoped that it would disappear as quickly as it had appeared, but on Friday morning, he still had this massive lump.

As part of my Partners time, I see a group of Year 2 Kindergarten students to work with them on literacy development. The group chose rabbits as their "passion project" and there have been a lot of connections between rabbits and our skinny pig library resident. When I collected the researchers from their class first thing in the morning, I said there was a problem that needed solving. We then checked out Ernie.

It took a lot of scaffolding for them to decide that Ernie needed to visit a vet. Some initially thought that merely taking him out of the cage and/or putting a bandage on the bump would do the trick. We also had to conduct a lengthy conversation to try and build some vocabulary so we could describe the issue to the vet on the phone. When I first asked them where the bump was, the senior kindergarteners would say "Here!" and point. When I asked how large the bump was, they'd reply "This big!" and gesticulate. Eventually, through some guided comparisons and body part talk, we were able to be more specific and explain that Ernie had a big bump about the size of a marble on the left side of his neck. The students helped me dial the number of Ernie's regular pet doctor, and we booked an appointment for Friday after school.

The students were bursting with information, so I grabbed the opportunity, printed the above picture that I took with my cell phone, made copies, and asked the students to write about what was going on. This is a group of very reluctant writers. It takes them a long time to write and only with lots of prompts. However, with this authentic reason for writing, they wrote more than they've ever done before for me. Here are some of their samples.

Sample #1

Sample #2

Sample #3

My principal kindly allowed me to leave school during my prep time to take Ernie to the vet. The lump has pus in it but the doctor on call was reluctant to lance it. Ernie now has antibiotics, pain medication, and a follow-up appointment this coming Tuesday. At least his weight is a lot more robust.

Ernie at the vet - Fri. Feb. 22/19

Pinned Parts

Timing can be quite serendipitous. My friend, Jennifer Casa-Todd, asked me to contribute to her students' White Pine slow chat focused on the book Chaotic Good. She knows that my daughter and I participate in cosplay, and my family is heavily into D&D and other RPGs. When my eldest heard that this book contained both, she was super-interested and I went to the public library and borrowed a copy for us to read. (I'll have to fit it in between the other books I need/want to read!) (Don't look too closely at the cover - Jen and I both have some criticisms of the image choices!)

White Pine 2019 nominee "Chaotic Good"

1st Chaotic Good Slow Chat question
It just so happened that both my daughter and I are working on cosplay outfits right now. It's bit tricky, which led me to seek advice from one of my sewing mentors, the fabulous and talented Natalie. I'm attempting to recreate the look of My Hero Academia's "Recovery Girl" and my daughter wanted to try her hand at sewing a poncho so she could be Ralsei. With the poncho, Natalie taught us how to do a bias seam for the neckline and a roll hem for the sides and bottom. Then my daughter, with great trepidation but also great courage, pinned and sewed the rest of the poncho. She did a great job!

Neckline cut - now what?

I've made a simple sheath dress when I was Joy from the movie "Inside Out", but I was in a hurry back then and pulled it together in a rush in one night. This outfit is a bit more complicated. I was uncertain about how the pieces would fit together. Natalie checked my pattern (that I created myself!), showed me how to add 1 cm on each side for seam allowances, and she and her assistant Simone guided me on how to cut and recreate the pieces of the pattern. This past Saturday, Natalie showed me how to notch the sides, line them up, and pin them correctly. I think I'll be ready to start sewing them together next week.

Do the notches line up?

Peeling layers and putting them together

One side of my "Recovery Girl" dress
An image of Recovery Girl
After finishing the dress, the next big challenge will be the head piece. What materials will I use to make the pink sides and purple visor?I found the medical jacket at Value Village for a great price ($4.99!) and the big syringe should be quite possible to construct.

Common Themes

  • Having a real-life connection (the book about someone who cosplays when you cosplay) or real-life purpose (describing what has happened to the school pet) makes work very engaging.
  • Watching someone with expertise (a veterinarian or a seamstress) is intimidating but inspiring.
  • You can't "fake care".
  • Sometimes it's scary to try things (writing or hemming) but if you are motivated enough, you can work through the fear.
Did I miss any other ideas that tie together my two news events?

Monday, February 18, 2019

My Many Microaggressions

Wednesday, February 13, 2019 was the TDSB Beginning Teachers Equity Conference at OISE. (The hashtag was #tdsbequityoise if you want to examine some of the tweets.) Friday, February 15, 2019, in addition to being a Parent-Teacher interview day, was also the second time the book club that I'm a part of met, to discuss chapters 3-4 of White Fragility, Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. I really needed to attend both of these events. I still have so much to learn.

Let me explain the blog title. This definition comes from Psychology Today (see

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
Sadly, I may have made a microaggression as I was getting ready to attend a session on microaggressions. I mixed up the presenters of "Microaggressions in Schools: Making the Invisible Visible" (Sharla Falodi and Farah Rahemtula, who shared it at the TDSB Unleashing the Learning conference as well as this TDSB Beginning Teachers Equity conference) with the presenters of "Microaggressions in Your School Library" (Gemsy Joseph and Deborah Haines, who shared it at the OLA SuperConference). It wasn't intentional, but that's the thing about microaggressions: it's not the intent but the impact that matters.

I was able to attend all of Sharla and Farah's talk (and only a few minutes of Gemsy and Deborah's talk, but that is available to listen to on VoicEd Radio via this link and their slides via the link mentioned in the tweet below). Farah and Sharla's talk was excellent. They had the participants go through and examine a variety of real-life examples to examine the intent and impact. They also shared a handout on potential responses when you experience a microaggression.Turns out what I needed was a handout on how to respond appropriately when you are the one perpetuating the microaggression.

Both Sharla/Farah and Deborah/Gemsy referred to this video, which is worth viewing multiple times.

As I alluded earlier, unfortunately, mixing up the presenters was not the only microaggression I made. I made a bigger one during my own presentation earlier.

Before I detail my awful misstep, I want to thank @MrKitMath on Twitter, who helped educate me about the difference between "pronouns" and "preferred pronouns". People who are marginalized shouldn't have to do the heavy lifting and teaching (although they often do - I used Kit's quote about our obligations as educators as an image to end our slide deck). The correction made me more aware and now I've learned. I hope I can be as gracious when corrected as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the American congresswoman who talked about her cis-privilege, and apologized for her use of the word "cis-genedered" instead of the more accurate "cis-gender". Her apology was not defensive and she promised to do better (and it seems like she has altered her words in subsequent tweets and interviews).

I spoke about Anti-Oppression Opportunities for Media Literacy with Michelle Solomon. We named our privilege and tried to include as many identities and examples as possible. Somehow, we were able to finish with time to spare for questions and comments. Someone called us out on our choice of visuals and examples and said that we focused too much on the negative, and not enough on positive representations. I apologized. Michelle and I felt terrible about it afterwards. It's easy to get defensive and start to numerate the amount of positive examples we had included but weren't mentioned in the criticism, but we stopped ourselves. I know I asked myself why I didn't include the photos circulating Twitter right now of decorated doors that celebrate black hair and positive black representations. I do it in class (i.e. reading books about beautiful black hair like the book, Don't Touch My Hair,  I borrowed from amazing teacher-librarian Rabia Khokar as well as discussing the teen wrestler who was assaulted with scissors to his dreadlocks) so why didn't I do a better, balanced job then?

I was still thinking about my conference session on Friday when I attended my book club meeting. Thank you to the educators who are a part of that wonderful group that allowed me to bring up the incident and helped me to make sense of it within the context of the book we are studying. I won't go into further detail, but thanks again Ken, Courtney, Ruth, Leslie, and Josephine. Mistakes are part of learning.

The conference in between those two workshops (mine at 10:30 am and the one on microaggressions at 2:00 pm) was still full of learning, although maybe not as emotionally charged. Big thanks to my friend Tracey Davies, who carpooled with me and made the two-hour-long commute to OISE from Scarborough bearable. Tracey and I used to have such rich conversations when she drove us back from our Media AQ course a couple of years back and it was good to have the time to reconnect and share our thoughts while on the road. Thanks also to Ashley Clarke, who accompanied Tracey and I back to the east end of the city after the conference was over. Ashley was an LTO at our school last year; (I wrote about her on this blog previously) she is a permanent teacher elsewhere now but both the students and I miss her immensely. Thanks to Alicia and Casey for their excellent talk on anti-bias education in the early years, and to Jennifer Watt for organizing such a great conference. Also thanks to the people I had the pleasure of chatting with at lunch, an informal way to keep the learning going: Rizwan, Andrea, Iniyal, and a bunch of people whose names I've just forgotten (one of whom just won a prestigious award - how have I forgotten?).

I'm writing about my humiliation publicly not to collect any "poor-me-points" but rather to illustrate that there are going to be awkward and uncomfortable moments when doing equity and anti-bias work. It doesn't mean we should stop trying to be better, but we need to understand how the fog of the implicit bias we live and experience shapes us in ways we are unaware and think, reflect, read more, listen more and continue to try.

Monday, February 11, 2019

YouTube Club - Status Report 1/2 way Through

This school year, I launched several new clubs to replace Minecraft Club (which could no longer run due to recent technology limitations beyond my control). I brainstormed with some classes about what would make good replacements. Based on my schedule, availability (and let's be honest, my own interests), the new clubs offered were

  • Comics Club (offered for Primary students, Junior students, and Intermediate students, on Mondays at lunch for a two-month chunk per division - one month for reading comics, one month for writing comics)
  • Keva Plank Club (offered on a month-per-grade basis, either on Wednesdays at lunch or Wednesdays after school)
  • Board Game Club (open to Grades 4-8, one grade at a time, one month at a time, during lunch on Fridays)
  • YouTube Club (reserved for Grades 7-8 together on Thursdays after school for a three-month period)
We are halfway through our YouTube Club time and I thought it'd be beneficial to examine how this new, experimental club was progressing. 

To be frank, I wasn't exactly sure what YouTube Club was going to be like at first. Someone in one of the intermediate classes suggested it, probably not entirely seriously, and the idea intrigued me. When the sign-up list was being circulated, many asked what would happen in YouTube Club and I admitted that I wasn't sure. They told me what they thought could or should occur and that helped shape some of the content. I decided to limit the club to just the intermediate students because there was a chance that they might see something inappropriate and you have to be a certain age to have a YouTube account. (Plus, I didn't want the group to be too big and unmanageable!) I talked about the formation of this YouTube Club with fellow members of the board of the Association of Media Literacy (AML) and they had some fantastic recommendations about possible activities, challenges, videos to watch, and discussion starters. 

There are a couple of things we've done as part of this club that I haven't tried in other clubs I've been involved with. 

1. We established a "code of conduct" and some "ground rules" together. For instance, we limit watching of a single video to five minutes. We also said that no one should be forced to show or watch a video that they don't feel comfortable seeing/hearing.

2. I take meeting notes. I record who attended, link to the videos that were suggested, and summarize some of the discussion that takes place.

I think I've learned more from YouTube Club than the students have! For instance, Neil Andersen, president of the AML, told me about Social Blade, a website that " tracks social media statistics and analytics. Social Blade most notably tracks the YouTube platform, but also has analytical information regarding Twitch, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Mixer, and Dailymotion" (Wikipedia)

To my surprise, not only did the students already know about Social Blade, they had some interesting opinions about accounts that YouTube favours and those it doesn't, regardless of popularity.

Another example - speed settings. I only recently learned how to use the Speed Settings on YouTube, during my attempt to complete all of Sylvia Duckworth's Sketchnote challenges. It was driving me bananas to constantly pause and rewind segments of her tutorials, but then someone told me to change the speed setting of the video to 0.25 and then I was able to follow along at an easier pace. Watching and drawing simultaneously isn't easy!

Me with my Sylvia Duckworth certificate!
Some students were unaware of the speed settings options, but many were. They had plenty to say about why viewers would want to watch a video at a different speed, and they shared a really cool story about a YouTuber who filmed a segment in one speed and had his fans watch it in another, manipulating the viewing stats in a unique way. (I'm not describing it adequately here, so I may need to copy and paste from my meeting notes to properly convey the clever tactic.)

YouTube Club members also took it upon themselves to discuss the advertising that appears before some of the ads, comparing those that pop up at school vs at home, whether or not they skip the ad, and the impact of the ad on them as consumers. (One YouTube Club member is a proud supporter of Grammarly, it seems.)

Another benefit for me is that I've learned more about the interests of my students. We have a lot of students who are huge fans of BTS (a K-pop group). I knew about BTS, thanks to my students and to educator and tweeter Rafranz Davis, but I had never taken the time to watch BTS videos or listen to their songs. YouTube Club provided that time. BTS videos are filled with impressive dance choreography and incredible video production. I think the one I like the best is "Idol", featuring Nikki Minaj, although the students scared me with their description of why it was (or wasn't) appropriate viewing for school. The students like to share the history and fan theories behind the songs, and that makes it interesting. Some members of the YouTube Club have tried to insist we put limits on the number of BTS videos we watch during a club meeting, "because it's YouTube Club, not BTS Club", but so far, we're sticking with our student-centered playlist.

So, it sounds like things are going quite well but there is one part of YouTube Club that has me concerned. YouTube Club, like Comics Club, incorporates multiple grades. For YouTube Club, it's for the Grade 7s and 8s. However, for some reason, the Grade 7s and 8s do not mingle or interact with each other almost at all. In the presence of the Grade 8s (some of whom are big and boisterous), the quiet Grade 7s who are part of the club say nothing. I've made a point of insisting that no one can have a second turn at sharing their favourite YouTube video (with an explanation of why it's beloved) until all those who haven't had a turn and want one get to go. The Grade 7s approached me after all the Grade 8s were gone with their video idea for the following meeting. They wanted to share a video but did not want their names attached to the link and their reasons. How do I ensure they feel comfortable? How can I decrease the divide? 

And while I'm on a roll of asking questions ... what other things could I do with YouTube Club? I still have a list-full of possibilities, but is there anything I'm missing?