Monday, August 22, 2016

The Hat from Scrat(ch)

Pride can be one of the seven deadly sins, but celebrating an accomplishment that took time and effort is good. After attending the Maker Ed Toronto event in July, I was keen to do more finger knitting and complete a more elaborate project. I declared that I would make a hat.

I first spent time practicing the basics - making chains and infinity scarves.

Thinking of new uses for my finger knitting lines. Hairband?
I watched the video that Melanie Mulcaster included as part of her workshop.
I visited craft stores and bought appropriate yarn.
I also took tons of photos to document the process.

Comparing my progress to the video.
 I postponed starting the actual hat for a while. I wanted to finish my scrapbooking so I could concentrate on this project. Truth be told, I was also nervous. I realize that I can unravel mistakes and that errors were inevitable with my first attempt, but I wanted this to feel like a positive experience so that I'd be inclined to continue this potential new hobby.

Didn't buy a stitch keeper, but improvised!
My fingers aren't used to longer projects and, since I was on vacation away from home while attempting this project, sometimes I would have to leave my work to attend to other things (like eating at the many, many restaurants we visited). I didn't buy that stitch keeper that Melanie recommended, but I found that extra-large paper clips worked just as well for holding the loops in place until I could return to the task.

Curving and connecting
Making the move to connect the line and start to curve was the first challenge. I watched the video several times and was disappointed when the yarn wasn't always completely visible on the screen so I could compare. I searched for the outside stitches and "picked them up". Thankfully, after a few more rows, I could see progress happening before my eyes.

Mid-knitting (note the pinky finger has extra loops for connecting)

Hubby took this "alternate POV" shot of the knitting process.
It looks like a circle!
It's taller too!
 The video I watched described how to make a "slouchy hat", which was a bit more complex. Since I chose to make a toque, I didn't need to decrease my width. However, both kinds of hats needed a darning needle to close the top. I'm thankful I watched the videos all the way through before I began, because I would have been disappointed to leave it undone. I had to purchase a needle. The video recommended using one particular end to close but since I had a longer piece of yarn on the other side, I chose to use that side instead to close up.

Me, doing "needlework" of a sort!
I was so pleased when I finished. I could see where I had made some mistakes - a missed stitch, or a loose section - but I felt like those errors gave the hat "character" and showed that this was my first hat. A funky flower-like top emerged quite by accident.

Mission accomplished! It even looks like a hat!
I saw in the video that the hat can be worn inside-out or outside-in. I'm not sure which I prefer!

Should I wear my hat this way ...
or should I wear it this way?
I was so pleased with my handiwork that I wore the hat in the car while I drove back from Baltimore to Toronto. I took it off before I passed through customs because I thought I might look a bit too quirky wearing a wool cap in August.

So, what are the pedagogical ramifications of this project? I will keep out several kinds of wool in my library makerspace so that students can finger knit when they want. I will also put my hat on display so students can see what's possible to make. (When I first finger knit ever, as part of a class coverage during PLC time, we only had enough time to make a short chain.) I will point out and celebrate the imperfections, because it shows I'm not perfect but learning my craft and it makes the end product unique and all mine. I might make some more hats to give to relatives for Christmas and I'm considering tackling an even bigger finger-knitting project - a blanket!

My knitting success has also given me the courage to start sewing lessons (both with my mother and possibly with the TDSB Continuing Education department). I'll exorcise the ghost of my Grade 7 sewing project (in brief: back when middle school students took Home Economics, I brought my half-completed pink and purple shorts home at the end of the course; my mother, who worked for years as a seamstress with the Singer Sewing Company, took one look at my twin circles of fabric filled with pins, took it away, and three minutes later came back with a finished, polished pair of wearable shorts.) That experience taught me a bad lesson - that I should leave all sewing tasks to the expert, aka my mother. I'm going to unlearn that message and become more independent. School no longer offers cooking or sewing classes, so I hope to share in the near future how my sewing adventure personally and in the library makerspace will go.

P.S. Big thanks to Melanie Mulcaster (@the_mulc) and Jennifer Brown (@JennMacBrown) for being a virtual support group with my finger knitting endeavors. I plan on attending one of Jennifer's future knitting circle gatherings and Melanie's tutoring has been valuable. Knowing these two were interested in what I was doing with yarn encouraged me to try.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Taking a Break from Owning School Pets?

This past school year, and 2016 specifically, has not been good to my house's pet population. One of our chinchillas died in November 2015. Chocolate the skinny pig died in the first quarter of 2016. Ten days after I posted this obituary ...
Vanilla, Chocolate's buddy, died suddenly.

My house isn't exactly empty. I still have one skinny pig (Owen), one rabbit (Dolly), one chinchilla (Chilli) and one budgie (Arctic). However, there are no pets scheduled to return to school in September. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

After Max, my previous "school skinny pig" died, I "took a break" (albeit a short one) from having a school pet. I didn't want to rush right into seeking and obtaining another pet. I know the students missed having an animal in the library. When Chocolate died, many adults and children inquired about whether or not I'd get a "friend" for Vanilla so he wouldn't be lonely. Vanilla seemed fine on his own, and he had piggy pals at my house he'd visit on the weekends, so I didn't worry about finding a new pet to join the herd.

This led me to reflect on the ability to "take breaks" from other activities, and if that's a good move.

My #oneword2016 goal was "continue". I did continue to work on my previous personal, professional, and spiritual goals, for most of the school year, but I seriously slacked off this summer.

I took a break from exercising regularly after my class at the neighbourhood community centre ended in June - I don't own a scale but I suspect that I gained back a lot of the weight I lost.

I took a break from personal reading - mostly because I didn't find anything I was keen to dive into. I still need to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Report, but I know that it will be a challenging and emotionally draining effort.

I took a break from my research project because I didn't have time to properly write the contract for my academic assistant. Once the financial details get settled, I'm eager to get this ball rolling again. It's been too long brewing - since 2010! I'm going to need to redo all my literature review materials because so much more has been written on the topic since I last collected peer-reviewed articles.

I took a break from using any electronic devices for a week while I was in Ocean City, Maryland. It was pleasant spending time away from the screens enjoying the beach, but I did have several time-sensitive emails I had to hurry and answer once I returned.

This selfie was not taken with a cell phone!

My daughter's tootsies and my awesome pedi in the sand

I don't think pet ownership necessarily falls into the same categories as these - although reading, exercising, avoiding computers and completing projects are good for nurturing happiness and positive mental health, traits also linked to having companion animals. However, owning a pet (and bringing it to school) involves more people and has more costs - I have to ask permission from my administration before bringing any new creature in the building. Obtaining most of my pets have been times when "the moment was right", like finding two skinny pigs for free with their cage. I'll see what happens when I return to school without my cage and see where it goes from there.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Crippling with Kindness

(This post was written months ago but I postponed posting it until now.)

We have a student in our school with a vision disability. I am one of his/her teachers. Several professionals from the board's Vision Department come to assist this student. I've written before about how helpful these experts have been to me. As I listen to their advice, and observe what goes on in our school, I've noticed some bad habits from our school community. These actions stem from a lack of knowledge. I suspect that the people doing these things think they are being kind or friendly - but unfortunately it's neither.

It's Not Just Style

This is not just a matter of having different teaching styles or interaction styles that I object to because they don't match my own. In a book I'm reading for a book club, The Dream Keepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children by Gloria Ladson-Billings, the exemplary teachers profiled do not have a singular personality trait - some were playful while others were strict - but their conceptions of themselves and others were culturally relevant. In the study on Exemplary School Libraries in Ontario, one of their main findings was "there are exemplary school library programs in Ontario, but there is not a unitary conception of an exemplary school program, nor is there a single approach that creates an exemplary library program" (page 36).  What I've been observing recently is conduct that could, in my opinion, be detrimental to this student, encouraging dependence and helplessness instead of independence and perseverance.

1) A Pick-Me-Up is not Supposed to be Literal

In a crowded hallway or busy stairwell, well-meaning people may be inclined to "protect" students with visual impairments by steering them out of harm's way. Combine this gut reaction with the fact that this particular student is small and adorable, and it's a recipe for babying. This student gets pulled, carried or lifted too often. A rocking chair may be a challenge to climb into when your feet don't reach the floor while you're sitting in it, but other accommodations can be made instead - hold the rocking chair steady at the side and allow the student to climb on by him/herself. Asking permission before offering assistance would also be a step in the right direction. Grabbing someone without them realizing it is a startling experience for sighted people - what is it like for people who don't have the same ability to see it coming? We need to respect young people's physical space, not just those with low vision. I know when I see older students pat the heads of younger students (especially kindergarten students) or pick them up to hug them without permission, I remind them that this behaviour can be seen as condescending - people wanted to be treated as equals, not as pets. Speaking of which ...

2) Daredevil or Mr. Magoo vs People (Who are Blind)

Physical disabilities neither equal superpowers nor "handle with care" fragile-snowflake status. I've seen and heard people try to make this blind student "guess who's talking", or completely silence the room when the student walks in. The former practice expects that the student's superior memory and hearing will be able to distinguish voices that he/she don't hear often, and that's unrealistic. Half the time, I can't tell who is calling me on the phone unless I have call display - it's unfair and stressful to play this sort of "game" with a student who can't look at a face clearly to see who is speaking. The latter practice actually robs the student of audio cues that help him/her navigate rooms and spaces. Total silence is also unrealistic. I was advised to identify myself by name when talking to this particular student, and verbally indicate when I was walking away, so that there's no guessing about who is talking. Treat people who are blind as people first.

On WikiHow, there's a simple, illustrated guide to interacting with people who are blind. A lot of the tips make sense. (Other examples can be found here at Accessibility News, at this site promoting a book on Dealing with Vision Loss, and at the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) website.

Learning from Others

Working with this student, and watching others work with this student, has improved my own reflection and meta-cognition. It makes me more aware of what and how I say things. Do my actions match my words? How do my attitudes about individual students impact the way I interact with them? What techniques do I use that encourage independence in all students? How long should I let students struggle with a task before offering to help? Are there ever times that, in an effort to be kind, I'm actually crippling a student's abilities or potential?

Monday, August 1, 2016

ABCs and the Gift of Time

July 26-28 was three days full of really enjoyable professional learning. My co-presenter, Andy Forgrave, and I ran a course called "The ABCs of Minecraft" at ETFO headquarters in Toronto. Even though our numbers were small, ETFO still allowed the course to continue. Our 10 (which became 9) participants had a fabulous time and my big "aha" was that providing adequate time to explore, play, and discuss was a huge advantage, and one that may help our participants use Minecraft for their own pleasure and purpose later on.

I've done a lot of presentations about Minecraft over the past five years. (You can see for evidence to support this claim.) We have never conducted follow-up research to see who has listened to us talk and then proceeded to play Minecraft or introduce it to their students. I suspect that this cohort (as well as the colleagues who were involved with our TLLP project) might have a better chance of retaining and using the skills they learned because they had three days to digest and practice them. For instance, during our time together, we spent a large amount of time discussing the significance of a user name and "skin". The participants pondered over their own Minecraft names and spent time searching for, modifying and creating their visual "look" in the game. We also had time to spend in-game together - we shared a lot of laughs at our first attempt at getting a group photo while in Minecraft: a cow photobombed us and people kept walking into others or falling in the pool. We finally got the photo, only to realize one of our members was missing and we had to do it all over again!

Photo bombing cow on the right!

Our actual group shot together

Jasmi, Gumby, a creeper, and Samir together in paper/plastic form
The group plans to reunite on the Gumbycraft server in the near future so we can socialize and gain more experience playing. Thank you to all the class members, the amazing Andy (who played "good cop" to my "bad cop" - see sheep photo below for an example) and all the ETFO staff members who made us feel so welcome.

Participant: "There's a sheep in my boat! What should I do?"
Diana: "That's a great question! What do you think you can try?"
Andy: "There's a sheep in your boat? You should ..."

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.