Monday, July 25, 2016

My Chinese Tutor

During this year's Volunteer Tea, I insisted on getting a photo with Fiona's grandma. She helped out in an official capacity as a volunteer, but her impact on my teaching and learning came informally, during my twice-weekly scheduled hall duty assignments. Fiona's grandma was my Chinese language tutor.

If you've ever heard someone complain about why immigrant families don't just hurry up and learn the language of the country, give them a dirty look for me. Learning a new language, especially as an adult, is HARD! I was only capable of learning a phrase or two at a time, and I needed many weeks of practice. Often, I'd forget exactly how to say the words, even though I had repeated them with success the day before.

Fiona's grandma was very patient with me. She encouraged my speaking and celebrated my efforts, even when they weren't flawless.

My school has a high Chinese population. Many of the grandparents that pick up our students at the end of the day do not speak English. I wanted to be friendly and be able to communicate. I also wanted to speak to some of our youngest students who respond quicker to commands in their native tongue. The bilingual students are very helpful and will offer words when I'm floundering to explain. Thanks to them, Fiona's grandmother and Mrs. Lung, our kindergarten teacher who is also fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, I can say ...

Good morning


How are you?

I am fine.

Wait a minute.

Who are you looking for?

Line up.


I don't understand.

Do you understand?

Happy Chinese New Year!

Mrs. Lung and our principal, Mr. Parish, at the Volunteer Tea
I get mixed up frequently. Tones are really tricky to get right. Sometimes I mix up a Mandarin phrase with a Cantonese phrase. I can really empathize with our English Language Learner students. My vocabulary, as you can see by the list, is pretty limited and rudimentary. Our ELL students are acquiring more words and phrases while managing in class.

What helped me with my language learning was:

  • a patient teacher
  • many chances to practice
  • positive reinforcement that encouraged me to take risks
  • taking notes (i.e. writing down with English letters how I'd interpret the sound)
I hope to improve with time and effort. I'm not signing up for official Mandarin and Cantonese lessons - I like my tutor and the way she gently helps me get better. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Follow the ETFOSA16 Path to Excellence

3 days (July 12-14, 2016)
8 different school boards represented
12 subway stops to get there (from Warden to Sherbourne)
16 participants

Add it together and you get a lot of learning. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario's Summer Academy 2016, otherwise known as #etfosa16 (session #61) was a fabulous opportunity for me and my co-facilitator, Melissa Jensen, to learn alongside teacher-librarians from Simcoe County DSB, York Region DSB, Halton DSB, Toronto DSB, Peel DSB, Hamilton-Wentworth DSB, Thames Valley DSB, and York Catholic DSB.

The foundation of our session was the 2014 Canadian Library Association document, Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for Library Learning Commons in Canada. It really does have something for everyone and the participants appreciated having the time to read it in depth and use it as a guide for moving forward in improving their own space and program.

We were also fortunate to have guest speakers come to visit and share.
On Day 1, Katina Papulkas and Elina Man came on behalf of TVOntario.
On Day 2, Ramy Ghattas from Logics Academy brought Dash and Dot robots for us to explore.
On Day 3, Andrew Woodrow-Butcher from Little Islands Comics / The Beguiling and Arden Hagedorn from Another Story Bookshop let us shop on location and discussed the importance of independent local booksellers.

Elina, Diana, Katina, Melissa


My favourite photo of Ramy from ETFOSA16
Melissa was a joy to co-present with, because she is so organized and flexible. We didn't "rehearse" yet we fell into a comfortable rhythm, taking turns to speak and complementing each others' strengths. I was grateful for the malleable structure we created, because it gave the participants a chance to have a say in what they wanted to address. I learned so much from all the participants and sessions. I loved having the opportunity to sit and "talk shop" with teacher-librarians from other school boards. They brought refreshing new perspectives. Our "new to the field" teacher-librarians that came also brought excellent ideas. My own big AHA was Canva - I'm really excited about trying to make some library infographic reports using this online tool.

Group shot on the final day
Thank you so much Sue, Joanne, Karen, Lisa, Elisabeth, Renae, Sue Mac, Sean, Kim, Rahima, Anonella, Cathie, Sara, Marilyn and Rhonda for three days of fun learning. Stay in touch!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Maker Mania

Rest? What's rest? My first full week of summer vacation was chock-full of learning, thanks to two great events.

MakerEdTO - Maker Education Conference (July 6, 2016)

Site =

9:00 a.m. Opening Keynote - Peter Skillen
The Maker Movement: It's About Making Up Your Own Mind

Site = Peter's notes can be found here

Every time I hear Peter Skillen speak, I love him a little bit more. (Don't tell my husband or Peter's significant other either.) Peter flipped the dominant narrative of STEM and MakerSpaces on its head - coding and creating have been around a lot longer than many would report. He dispelled a lot of myths, like that teachers in inquiry maker classrooms are laissez-faire and "anything goes". Constructivism and thinkers like Seymour Papert are what fuel the activities found in good maker spaces. Consider the why and the passion students have for projects.

What did I learn?  I think I realized some things about attitude. Peter could justifiably be bitter and cynical. After all, he's been instrumental in providing opportunities that Johnny-come-latelys now claim that they've created. Yet, Peter is cheerful. He's not resentful. He's aware and he shares his awareness and knowledge without vitriol.

My most re-tweeted photo: Peter & Brenda finger knitting

9:40 a.m. Session 1 - Melanie Mulcaster
Knitting 101: No Needles Required

Site = Melanie's presentation can be found here

The description of Melanie's session on the website was "learn how to engage students through the art of finger knitting and learn how it can be applied in various contexts related to the curriculum".

What did I learn? I discovered some important tips.
1. I don't have to hold the end of the yarn with my thumb after I have a few rows completed. This prevents my hand from cramping up.
2. I should thread on my non-dominant hand.
3. There's a device that you can use to preserve your knitting if you have to go to the bathroom. (I forget what it's called.)
4. You CAN make more than chains. Melanie showed me how to grab "ears" and continue going around so that I can eventually make a hat.
5. Use thick chunky wool for a cooler result.
Looking for "ears" to connect

Melanie helping me connect my chain to make a circle

10:35 a.m. Session 2 - Shaun Grant
Silk Screening T-Shirts

Site = Overview of the MakerEdTO conference day can be found here

I bought a t-shirt prior to the event so that I could try out the silk screening center. I should have bought one of theirs, because the quality was better and I am definitely planning on wearing my creation after the fact. Shaun helped me (and Jessica and Allison from Simcoe County DSB) with the different stages of creating and making a silk-screen t-shirt.

What did I learn? I found out that silk screening is both easier and harder than I thought. The materials can be bought at craft stores (Curry's) but that there's a technique to placing the ink and spreading it - it can't be too little or too much and the pressure must be even and consistent. I liked using the fabric pastels and shirt spray cans.

Allison and Shaun silk-screening her top

11:30 a.m. Session 3

Here's the great thing about a conference that respects the adult learner: I took my time with finger knitting and silk screening, so much so that I didn't go to a third session in the morning. If only we could do similar things during the school day!

12:30 p.m. Lunch and 1:15 p.m. Playground

I had a quick bite with some of the educators who came down from the Simcoe County District School Board for lunch and then returned to the York School to try out the 3D Doodle Pen. My husband still remembers me spending $100 on a pen (the Echo Pen) so I appreciated the chance to try the tool out without having to fork over cash. Teresa Allen, who helped monitor this station, brought her own kid-friendly version she bought from a KickStarter and it seemed to work smoother than some of the others. The playground was also great because I had a lengthy conversation with Jennifer Brown, a teacher-librarian from Peel District School Board, about how she introduced MakerCulture in her school in a way that didn't turn her into the focus point. She also told me about how she introduced a sewing machine into her school library space.

What did I learn?   Success with the Doodle Pen depends on what generation you purchase. Older ones are more finicky. My chat with Jennifer Brown was so fruitful for the fall and for a talk I have to give in the near future. I'm going to go looking for a sewing machine and will ask my mother (an expert seamstress) if she's interested in coming and providing a few tutorials for those interested.

Jennifer with Little Bits (mostly we just talked)

Tom and David trying the Doodle Pens. Tom knew how to unclog them!

Maker Festival - (July 9-10, 2016)

July 8, 2016

My friend's son and I traveled to the Toronto Reference Library to help set up the Maker Festival. Natalie Draz, a creative artist, trained the volunteers to cut, fold, glue and assemble paper into beautiful origami structures. Thanks to those whom I worked with on the 10 am - 2 pm shift: Melissa, Annie, Monica, Nathan, Shun, Catherine, Laurissa, Cindy, Gabriela, Isis, Marzieh, Joyce, Paul, Julia, Natasha, Ronna, Julie, Karlo, Stewart, Matt, Trevor and Joshua. Big thanks to leaders Jen, Ceda and Anna who were functioning on minimal sleep but stayed positive and productive.

Laurissa, Annie, Cindy, Monica tying things together

Gabi, Julie, Shun, Karlo, Joyce with the fruits of their labor

Natalie demonstrates the next step

July 9, 2016

The core team (Jen, Eric, Agnieszka, Anna, Ceda, Matt and a bunch of people that I forgot to record their names) worked long into the night and when I came back on Saturday afternoon, the paper structures were hung, the streamers aloft, and everything was ready for the crowds. I worked at the front desk, collecting waiver signatures and answering questions. I was able to spend my break wandering the floors and there were fabulous exhibitors. My new friend Jennifer Brown wrote a much more elaborate and wonderful blog post about what Maker Festival had to offer. I was astounded by how many people present were volunteers, just passionate about making and helping. I had great conversations with folks that 
  • sell Raspberry Pis and 
  • make origami with leather and 
  • sell Maker Festival t-shirts for participants to hack and 
  • build geometric light structures and 
  • work with their spouses on local maker spaces and
  • assist the ROM with an interactive Twitter display. 
I saw many friends there - not just Jennifer Brown but Kelly Maggirias, Ray Mercer, Salma Nakhuda, David Hann, and more. I worked with friends like Teresa Allen and other wonderful people that felt like friends by the end of the shift. 

A view from the second floor of the Toronto Reference Library

York Region DSB TL Kelly Maggirias shows her origami ball

Branksome Hall TL shows her 3D printed inquiry earrings

David Hann shares his students pinball machine projects

An innovative way to combine art and tech from the ROM

Trevor and I have different reactions to the ROM dinosaur
 I really enjoyed my time volunteering at the Maker Festival and I may take a different role next year with the organization. It's such a treat to be around such motivated, creative and energetic people.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Last Week's Lessons Flew in from the Sky

What do you do in class during the last week of school? For many places "June Slide" is a reality. Report card marks and comments have been finalized and submitted so it's tricky to keep students motivated to learn and stay engaged with summer vacation looming large and promising just around the corner. My last week of plans were thrown out the window when a wonderful opportunity presented itself due to the winds of chance.

On Monday, June 27, one of the kindergarten teachers approached me at lunch.

"You're a pet person. We need your help. There's a bird outside on the fence."

Sure enough, there on the fence enclosing the kindergarten playground, surrounded by fascinated little children, was a budgie. I slowly approached the budgie and put my hand near it. It didn't fly away like birds usually do. That was a good indication that it was either quite tame or really exhausted. I took the bird in my hands and brought it inside.

The rest of the school "flew" into action. Ms. Chan lent us her butterfly cage as a temporary home. We took one of Mme Miller's eco-school project (a water bottle transformed into a bird feeder) to use the seed inside for food. Others found containers for water. The bird ate and drank happily.

Everyone was enchanted by our unexpected visitor. The students were full of questions. It was true, genuine inquiry! Some students did not originally realize that this was probably an escaped pet, rather than a wild bird. To clarify things, we discussed birds native to Ontario and discovered that wild budgies come from Australia. One of the main questions was "What are we going to do with the bird?" Keeping it at school was impossible, because school board pet policies forbid keeping birds. We talked about the ethical thing to do, and even referenced a Blue Spruce book we read this year, Fishermen Through and Through, when discussing who "owned" the bird. As a group, we decided to try and find the original owner. This led to making posters that we planned to post around the community.

As we made the posters, the students had new, challenging questions: "How can we tell if someone really IS the true owner of the bird?" The students were bothered by the idea that a person could claim to be the rightful owner but be dishonest. They added caveats to their posters.

We took walks around the community, which led to other questions, like "Where can we place our posters?" Our students differentiated between public and private property, as well as safe and unsafe locations. They even considered how high to stick the posters, so that adults and children could see them.

I had a spare bird cage in my garage, so I brought it in for the bird to have more spaces to perch and proper containers to eat out of. With closer examination came even more questions, such as inquires about the food the budgie ate. We were able to check this out closer than the actual bird. (I suspect that a kindergarten student might have tasted the bird seed but I have no proof and bird seed isn't toxic, thank goodness!)

My temporary cage also held a "fake bird", which led to several mistaken assumptions (e.g. "You got TWO birds? How? When?") and even MORE questions: "Does the real bird know the pretend bird is fake?" "Why would you put a fake bird in with the real bird?"

The students also declared that we did not have enough posters around, so they made more. To be eco-friendly (because after all, we are a Platinum Level Eco-School), we used leftover paper from hall displays and then had to make some visual arts related decisions about the tools to use so the message would show up clearly on the faded black paper.

So what is the fate of this "pedagogical gift from above"? One of our teachers volunteered to be the foster family for this bird. Her family has a hand-trained budgie of their own that can fly freely around their house. On Canada Day, we had a "trial visitation" to see if the birds would get along, but after watching them interact, there was some rightful concern that the resident bird might weaken its bond to the people in favour of the newcomer bird. Now the bird lives at my house, with a brand new (huge) cage and a 13-year old boy who dotes on it like crazy. It is highly unlikely that Arctic's original owner will be found - escaped birds can fly for far distances before collapsing, and there were no identifying bands on him. The ironic thing is that something similar happened at my school in 2011 - in June, the students found a lost bird. That budgie, christened "Li'l Tweet", still lives at my parents' house with two other budgies. Although I feel sorry for the original owner (which led to my own inquiry question: "How can we make sure that the cage is secure enough so the bird won't escape?"), I feel lucky to have had the chance to explore language, math, science, media, visual arts, social studies and STEM with tons of great questions in such an authentic manner with my students. That last week of school will certainly be memorable for all of us!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

French Fry Inquiry

It's been a busy week - so much so that my usual Monday Molly Musing appears today on a Thursday instead of the usual time. The previous week was filled with Cultural Play Day, my former principal's retirement celebration, my son's graduation, our staff social, the Volunteer Tea, the board's teacher-librarian facilitator final meeting, kindergarten graduation, and the library helper luncheon. I might reflect on one of those other topics at another time. Today, I want to talk about french fries.

I really liked how this short-term inquiry evolved with Mr. Tong's kindergarten class. I saw the JK/SKs from Room K1 quite often this year, for library, media, music, drama, and dance. One day in June, I walked in as Mr. Tong was reading a book to his class about big numbers. Someone, and I can't recall if it was an adult or child in the room, wondered out loud about 1000 french fries. How much is 1000 french fries? Could we eat it in one meal? The questions were flying.

I was just as enthusiastic about these questions as the students. I was so keen that I did my own research outside school hours and documented the results on Twitter.
My Twitter friends also started to ask great questions.
When I shared my findings, this led to even more questions by the students and teachers. My Popeyes meal was part of a combo - would the results be different if I had purchased fries by themselves?

In media class, Room K1 and I took a "media walk" virtually using Google Streetview to the local McDonalds, identifying different forms of media along the way.

In the regular classroom, Mr. Tong splurged in the name of primary source material research. He bought four medium McDonalds french fries. The students counted the amount of fries in each container. The results were:

  • 108
  • 76
  • 78
  • 82
The students calculated that, using the highest result as a benchmark, they would need to buy about 10 orders of medium fries from McDonalds to get approximately 1000 french fries. 

We didn't get a chance to purchase fries from Burger King or Wendys or Harveys to compare to the extent we hoped. (The students were hoping for free food in addition to discovering answers.) Despite the limited time, we had a great time integrating language, math and media. My original intention at the beginning of this school year was to use the classroom inquiry questions as guides for the themes for my long range plans for the kindergarteners. This didn't work out quite as planned - sometimes the question didn't naturally fit the subject area I needed to address, or by the time I learned of an inquiry question in a certain class, they had already exhausted interest in it and moved on to something else. However, this french fry inquiry showed me that integrated inquiry between specialist teachers and kindergarten teachers with their registered early childhood educators is possible. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Stalking Heather Stoness at #etfot4t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 13, 2016

6 Stellar Students + 2 Days = Making Memories at Provincials

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

The TDSB team at Provincials in U of T

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

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

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

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

Opening ceremonies of the OHFA Provincials 2016

Raheem shows the radio he built with his dad to visitors

Ishita teaches a guest some basic ASL

Vivien explains her research on Sir John A Macdonald

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

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

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

B-ball in action

The entire 2016 Provincial delegation

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

Writing in the sun at Fort York

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

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

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

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