Monday, December 10, 2018

What's in a (Webkinz) name?

Since 2007, I have been using Webkinz as a part of my media literacy program. Even though I incorporate this stuffed toy and online equivalent every year, it's never quite the same. One thing we usually do each year is purchase a new Webkinz toy and we learn about collaborative decision making through choosing a name for the toy, using the 3-part process as outlined in the Tribes TLC training. In 2011, our focus was more on voting. This year, based on experience from past years, I wanted us to look more deliberately at naming. In the past, the students chose names that, in my opinion, weren't particularly good. Maybe, I theorized, the reason for these "non-name" names was that the students had never been given the opportunity to create a name for something. I was also keenly aware that I didn't want to put my own ethno-cultural biases on what a "good" name was. After all, around this time in the news, an airline was doing social media damage control because one of their employees made fun of a young passenger whose name was Abcde. (Although, to be honest, this news story led to a lot of informal discussion in the staff room about reasonable and ridiculous names for children.)

Our inquiry unit for this term with the kindergarteners focused on belonging. There was a deliberate social intent - the hope was for the students to be more welcoming of others in their play time. We read many books that dealt with characters who did not feel like they belonged and how this was resolved. (We read Noisy Nora, Can I Play Too?  [an Elephant and Piggie book], Small Saul, Spork  and Where Oliver Fits.)

Although we did not belabor this point, when it came to working on a name for our various Webkinz (Room K1 has a chicken, Room K2 has a lion fish, and Room 110 has a reindeer), we talked about how giving a name to something or someone shows both how they belong to a group (or family) and also how they are unique or special. We made a conscientious effort to encourage creative naming, i.e. we don't name a girl "Girl" or a dog "Dog", so try to think of something that would be a way of identifying that one Webkinz.

I am relieved and happy to share that we've had our brainstorming, narrowing down of options, and final vote - and the names are actual names!

K1's chicken is called Macdonald.

K2's lion fish is called Unicorn.

Room 110's reindeer is called Santa.

This coming week, we'll use the codes that come with the new toys to "register" them online with their new names. We'll continue to look at tags (which the students have learned indicate who made the toy or piece of clothing), logos (the rainbow W for Webkinz is a significant one and we'll branch out to look at other examples) and ads. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Months of (map) practice lead to moments of success

Do you ever have those teaching moments, where you worry that the assignment you've given may be just a bit too hard, but then you stand back and the students tackle the task like professionals as a team without your interference and you feel so very proud? This happened to me last Friday with Room 112's Grade 3-4 students. While I celebrate the accomplishment, I need to remind myself that it took a long time to get to the stage.

It began early in the school year, when I noticed that despite past lessons, students were still unfamiliar with where to find books in the library. I decided to make a concentrated effort to explicitly teach about our library layout. This took a REALLY long time, and many, many lessons. We reinforced the concept visually and kinaesthetically, hiding in spots in the library and colouring codes on maps. I hid little paper people in the library and students had to find them using the denotations on library maps. Then they created "treasure" and hid them in the library with similar denotations on library maps for me to find.

I marked their progress and felt like the Grade 3-4 students *might* be ready for the big "chocolate challenge". Our inquiry question for the term centered around various types of effective communication. On Friday, I gave the class two maps and a few papers with the Morse Code alphabet and said "go". They had 40 minutes to find and then decipher the clues.

THEY DID IT! A few students let the thrill of the hunt overwhelm their sense of reason and they started searching randomly, thinking that the chocolates were just hidden somewhere in the library. All I had to say was "remember the maps". The students broke off into two groups (one per map) and started hunting with more deliberation. Once they started to find the clues, the excitement and energy in the room rose.

When they opened the clues and saw the dashes and dots, then the roles started to differentiate more. Some took on the job of decoding the message while others continued to hunt for hidden papers. Others watched the decoders, ensuring they didn't make any mistakes. Still others pointed at the code sheet to assist the writers.

There were only a couple of students that needed some slight redirection. As they deciphered the messages, students started calling out things like "we have to jump!" Others realized that starting too quickly had its disadvantages: "Oh, the messages are in order! When did we find this one? Did we already find this one at this spot?"

Groups formed and reformed into different combinations as students saw where there was a need and tried to fill in. Some were big and some were small, but there was a lot of teamwork evident.

One of the clues indicated that they needed a phone. That's when they looked up at me, taking photos with my cell phone, and had an "aha". Not all the clues were visual! I couldn't take a photo of the moment that a small group huddled close and listened attentively and intensely to a short recording of Morse Code on my cell phone. They only had to listen to it three times before they understood the message.

At one point, I suggested that they meet as a whole class to share what they had discovered so far.
If you look at that photo of the whole class, (the eighth in this sequence) you may notice a few things. 
One, they couldn't care less about me. (And that's good!) The focus is all on the assembled clues.
Two, check out the focus. Where are most of the gazes? On the centre of the circle.
It was shortly after I took this photo, when they realized where they had to go and what they had to do, that I temporarily lost control of the class. The 23 students ran up the stairs gleefully screaming as they fled the library. Teachers poked their heads out of their doors to see what the uproar was all about and I had to ask the students to go back downstairs and come up quietly.

Their final destination was Mr. Roberts' Grade 7 class. He was in on the plan and was prepared for the interruption to his Grade 8 geography class. The students suddenly became a bit shy. Do we just walk in? Do we "do the thing" and "say the password" out here or in the class? Do we do this in front of the Grade 8s?

With 10 minutes to spare in the period, the students earned their chocolates and happily returned to the library to do a quick book exchange and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

I am SO PROUD of the students. They really worked well together and used the previous lessons about reading maps and understanding where to find things in the library to help them solve the challenge. I saw proof that they could apply what they had learned previously for a new situation!

This same group also did a fabulous job with our library/science class partner unit: the Grade 3s made Lift the Flap book pages about plants and the Grade 4s made I Spy book pages about habitats. That project had a similar trajectory to the library layout familiarity work. The classroom teacher and I had our moments when we worried that the students would never understand the job and never finish within a reasonable time. We were so delighted when it all came together at the end. I tweeted some of the Grade 3 projects and we presented the Grade 4 book at our month-end assembly.

The concerns that the classroom teacher and I had are typical for people engaged in inquiry. Carol Kuhlthau, an American expert on school libraries, has done a lot of work about guided inquiry design. Her work on the Information Search Process, especially the thoughts and feelings associated with the process, are important to remember.

Just like I need reminding that it takes time to get to the final product, I also need reminding that it's acceptable (and normal) to have mixed feelings (including despair) and believe that we'll never get things accomplished, but that with time and effort, we can achieve. Thank you to this particular teacher (name removed by request) for being so willing to work with me, the teacher-librarian. And thank you to the students in Room 112 for your enthusiasm, curiosity, and drive!

Monday, November 26, 2018

My Favourite Mechanic (and how he teaches the teacher)

I've been meaning to follow up my post on how my Cross Fit coach helped me to be a better teacher with one about another non-educator "schooling" me on how I can improve at my job by watching him do his.  Now is my chance.

This is my mechanic, Jeremy.

Jeremy works at Redline Automotive. He takes care of my car, but more importantly, he takes care of me and my family. How? What's so special about this guy?

Before I explain, let me provide some context. I drive, but I know very little about how cars actually work. In the past, before I started taking my car to Redline, this lack of knowledge was problematic. I'll admit that I've been "fleeced" in the past by dealerships and other car repair places that charged me lots of money for repairs or work that I didn't really need. My father used to accompany me when I took my car in, but nothing makes you feel as uncertain and immature as having to bring your Daddy when you need an oil change. I'm not sure when or how I discovered Redline, but I'm glad I did. It hasn't been a perfectly smooth ride, but the way things are handled even then are part of the reasons why Jeremy (and the crew) has earned my trust and respect.

1) Jeremy makes me feel like I'm his most valuable customer.

Jeremy is busy in the shop but when I come to pick up my vehicle, he doesn't ship me off to whomever is working the front desk. (That wouldn't be a hardship, as Sue, who usually handles the reception area, is a delight to talk to.) He never makes me feel like it's a chore to interact with me. I'm not just a job to get done and push aside. Jeremy makes me feel welcomed. He doesn't hurry through our interactions, even though there may be other people in line. He even takes the time to ask how things are doing in general, not just car issues.

The lesson I can learn from this as a teacher? = Make every student feel like they are my "favourite". Be welcoming and eager to talk to a parent who approaches me.

2) Jeremy explains procedures and costs while still giving me choice.

I have no clue what needs fixing or why things need replacing. Jeremy takes the time to explain them to me. He'll even bring me the part to show where there's wear and tear so I can see it for myself. Car bills are often unpleasant because of the size (and sometimes the unexpected nature of receiving them). Jeremy and his fellow mechanics Charlie and John try to "break the news" as gently as possible. Before doing any work, they call and check in with us, to get approval. The wonderful thing is that if a job can wait, or is a low priority, Jeremy and his co-workers let us know. We are not obligated to buy any parts or do any work. I remember my brother telling me that Redline called my father (who has now started bringing his car there) to tell him, "No Mr. DeFreitas, you don't need X and Y done. Your car doesn't need it."

The lesson I can learn from this as a teacher? = Don't try to "save time" by skipping sharing the rationale or process description. Knowing how and why we do things may increase both compliance and engagement. Also, provide options as often as possible. It makes people feel like they have some control over the situation, which makes them willing to work with you.

3) Jeremy is super-patient and empathetic.

Last Tuesday, I took my car in to replace my all-season tires with winter tires. It turns out that I need new winter tires. Redline tried to call, but Tuesday was a particularly busy day and I couldn't get to my phone. My husband was reluctant to approve the purchase of four new tires without consulting with me so I picked up my car without getting anything done. Jeremy could have been irritated. ("Why didn't you answer your phone?") Jeremy could have been dismissive. ("You, who knows nothing about tires, think THAT'S expensive?") He was neither. "I understand" is what he said. "You must have been very busy." "I can store these tires for you here until you make your decision." Turns out the price was on par with the industry average for the quality of the tires they offered, and so on Thursday, I took the car back to have the work done. No eye-rolls. No "I told you so"s. Redline got the job done.

The lesson I can learn from this as a teacher? = Duh! Be just as patient and empathetic! Just like Jeremy with his automotive expertise, not everyone has my level of training (I have a BEd and MEd) but I need to meet people where they are at, and put myself in their shoes.

4) Jeremy knows how to fix cars and will be honest when he doesn't know the answer.

Jeremy knows his stuff. He can diagnose problems very well. Having said that, he's not a magician or miracle worker. In fact, there was one time in the past where we brought in the car and every time we thought it was going to be ready, it wasn't. We were told to try again the next day, and then the day after that. I'm the only driver in our family and we only have one car. This lack of wheels started to negatively impact our daily life. But here's the thing. I spoke to Redline. I said that I was frustrated about continually being told that it might be ready by the end of a day, only to discover that it wasn't. I said I was disappointed and that I'd prefer to be told that it'd be a longer period of time and then pleasantly surprised when it was ready, instead of strung along with false hopes of a ready car. They listened. They admitted that they were having a challenging time diagnosing the issue. They helped me rent a car and they deducted part of the labour costs. I had friends that said I should find a new mechanic after this incident, but I disagreed. I really admired how, when they realized that I was unhappy, they worked with me and were upfront about the difficulties.

The lesson I can learn from this as a teacher? = Demonstrate that I know about how to teach (without ever lording it over someone) and be truthful when I am struggling to find a solution or reach a particular student.It's okay to not be perfect, and admit it in a way that doesn't undermine credibility but shows vulnerability.

There's one more minor thing that makes working with Jeremy wonderful. For a brief time, I was his elementary school teacher librarian! When I first moved to my current school in 2004, he was in his last year. I tried to find a photo of Jeremy in my school scrapbooks, but he wasn't in my Grade 7 math class or any of my clubs or teams. Just take my word for it that he was a bit shorter than he is now, but just as nice!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Recognizing a great teacher even if you don't see them teach

I am very fortunate to work with some talented and dedicated teachers. Our new French teacher, Saadia Isaahac, is no exception, but she is exceptional. Saadia is hard-working, passionate about French and a skilled educator.

Saadia Isaahac, our French teacher

She and I are both specialist teachers. Her work centers more on the junior and intermediate students and this year, my time is reserved more for the early years and primary students. I don't have time to sit in on any of her lessons. How do I know how great she is?

Listen to the Students

First and foremost, I witness the impact by overhearing conversations between students or watching students and what they do. Early in the school year, I eavesdropped on some Grade 8 students. They had no clue I was listening to their conversation. I heard them complimenting Madame and commenting on how much new French they have learned in just such a short time.

In the Grade 7 class, I was seated with the classroom teacher waiting for the morning announcements to play before taking the students to the library. I saw several of the students with their French notebooks open, studying for their test and practicing their vocabulary out loud. The classroom teacher confirmed that this was a frequent behaviour and that the students studied not out of fear of failing a test, but a genuine interest in doing well in French.

All of the home room classes on the second floor of the school have big wipe off sheets affixed to the doors so that students can write class reminders, inspirational quotes, birthday wishes, or whatever messages they deem important. The Grade 6 students wrote their message in French. Originally, there was a short note at the bottom saying "Are you proud of us, Madame?" When I took the photo of the door, Mme Isaahac had written a reply. In French, she wrote "yes, I am very proud. You all are wonderful".

Listen to the Staff

We teachers can be a gossipy crew. In this case, it's not to tear anyone down but to build someone up. I have heard so many glowing reports from the junior and intermediate classroom teachers about Mme Isaahac. Without naming names, teachers have told me about her effective classroom management (a truly remarkable feat considering that Saadia teaches French à la carte, which means she is "entering another space" that she is not usually the one in control of for the majority of the day). Other teachers are impressed with the amount of work that she is able to coax out of the students. They marvel at how engaging her tasks are and how games are not time-wasters but useful ways to reinforce vocabulary, grammar, and other key concepts. The teachers are delighted to see and hear how much French the students are learning, and how happy they are to be learning from her.

It's not just the classroom teachers that are wowed by Saadia. Our Educational Assistant spend some time supporting students in the Grade 4 French class first thing in the morning. Both our past and current EA have spoken highly of Mrs. Isaahac's teaching style. They've said that they themselves are learning more French as a result of supporting students in this class, and one took back handouts and activities that Saadia developed herself for use with his own child at home!

Look at the Displays

If I didn't have a physical space to call my own, I might not be motivated to create displays. A lack of a specific French classroom does not deter Saadia. I've noticed that in every classroom that Saadia teaches in, there is a section with hand-made French posters reminding students of certain sentence constructions or common phrases.

And the hallway - oh, the hallway! In the stairwell that leads up to Saadia's little office, the student creations from Grades 6, 7 and 8 are posted. Whereas some of my displays stay up for a long period of time, Saadia replaces the artifacts with new evidence of French learning monthly. Here are some of the items up for November.

In the downstairs hallway, I've seen some equally neat pieces of work from the younger grades. I wish I had taken a photo of some of the word-art pictures that the Grade 4s completed; they created illustrations but coloured certain sections by writing the name of that colour (in that colour) over and over again in the space. It attracted a lot of attention, both from the students that made the artwork as well as the students that passed by the display on the way to their own classes.

Look at her Involvement

We just finished Parent-Teacher Interviews. My role was the translator escort, ensuring that the five translators we had working on Thursday evening made it from one interview to another in a timely manner. Where was Saadia? She had a full slate, sitting in on interviews alongside the classroom teacher. I hope Saadia does not mind me guessing that for many of these talks, the parent(s) did not request a meeting with the French teacher. However, Mrs. Isaahac took the initiative to introduce herself to families, especially those where the student is struggling with some aspect of the French program, to explain in person the class situation. Her presence indicated that this subject matters, and student efforts in French matter.

Talk to the Teacher Directly

I love chatting with Saadia. We do not have many scheduled times together - our specialist teacher PLC meetings aren't as frequent as those attended by the classroom teachers - but informally we get small opportunities to exchange a few words. When I talk to Saadia, I can tell how much she cares about the success of the students. She never brags, but it's evident how much effort she puts into her lessons. What makes this even more inspiring is that she has a nine-month old baby at home!

When I asked Mrs. Isaahac about taking her photo and writing my blog post about her, she was a little uncertain. She doesn't do the work for the attention, but for the students. However, I think it's important to a) celebrate the accomplishments of our fellow staff members and recognize when they are doing a good job, and b) to acknowledge that teaching isn't just something that happens behind closed doors. Forgive the biblical allusion, but don't hide your light under a bushel - even if you don't intend for it to happen, the light will peek out. It's not about self-promotion, but about helping others.

As I told our wonderful Grade 8 teacher, Farah Wadia, I'm so grateful that she tweets about what happens in her class because it makes me aware of what they are learning, helps me make connections for networking, and see the possibilities for what students can accomplish. I'll end with four tweets of Farah's that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the type of learning going on in her classroom.

Monday, November 12, 2018

ECOO Conference Reflections from #BIT18

On Tuesday, November 6 and Wednesday, November 7, I was fortunate enough to attend the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario's annual Bring IT Together conference in Niagara Falls. I've attended in 2016, 2014, 2013 2012, and 2011 (when it was in Markham, ON). I've noticed that this year's conference had some immediate consequences. Here's a breakdown of my learning.

Educational Computing Organization of Ontario #BIT18

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Minds on Media

Summary (taken from website): Minds On Media© (MOM) is a model of professional learning that respects the learner's 'desire to know'. Teachers come to learn and facilitators respect their choices in how they wish to do that. MOM is run in a large room with multiple stations. Participants choose which stations they would like to visit, how long to stay there and when to move on. Some participants spend the entire day at one or two stations building and creating things for their classroom. Others are like butterflies and spend short amounts of time at each station. The following stations will be at the BIT18 MOM this year. 

3 Key Points: 

1. We are all media educators.
2. Global competencies and media literacy go hand in hand.
3. Media teaching moments are everywhere; it's a matter of finding them, tying in the key concepts, and asking those good questions

So What? Now What? 

I spent my entire time at the Association for Media Literacy's booth. This was good because we had a steady stream of educators chatting with us. I was so happy to get time to speak with some colleagues (such as Danika) that I haven't seen in ages (or at least 2015). This was bad because there were so many great stations that I would have liked to visit. Doug Peterson made a special effort to introduce me to Dr. Elizabeth Pearsall from his former school board. She was also part of MoM but was equally busy. At least I eked out some time during lunch to talk with Ray Mercer, Melanie Mulcaster, and Alanna King. I also met some new contacts that I'm excited to connect with, like Mary and Melissa. The last-minute decision to bring some costume animal heads for selfies was a very good choice - it attracted people to our location and also prompted some great questions (like why do we smile for a selfie, even when we are wearing a mask that obscures our faces?)

Another important next step after Minds on Media is to continue to increase the visibility of the Association of Media Literacy. So many people told us that they had never heard of the organization before. It's the 40th anniversary of the AML, so we need to improve on spreading the word of effective media literacy awareness and instruction throughout the province. We are going to do that with a revised website, a transition plan and another new endeavor - a series of discussion salons. Stay tuned!

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Happy BIT18 and Happy Media Literacy Week!

Happy 40th Anniversary AML!

Lunch with Katina, Sarah, Alanna, Ray, Melanie and Michelle

Me, the horse and Danika

My new contact Mary, my old friend Lisa and me (with the horse)

The title image from our slide deck

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
Opening Keynote by Dave Cormier

Summary (taken from website): Dave has led change based teams in K12 and Higher Education. He is currently finishing a two year contract designing a K-12 edtech strategy in PEI. This summer Dave is transitioning to the University of Windsor Medical School. As a change leader, an educational researcher and learning community advocate he has worked with groups around the world to better use technology to serve their technology goals. Dave has published on open education, Rhizomatic Learning, MOOCs (Massive/Open Online Courses), and the impact of technology on the future of high education.

Dave’s educational journey started in 1998 teaching little children to speak English. The pivotal moment of his career happened when he was teaching at Hannam University in South Korea in 2003 surrounded by the papers of 275 writing students and wondering if he had them all. That winter he started using discussion forums to bring all of his students together in a writing community (and to digitally keep track of their work) and he hasn’t looked back. He’s since helped organize online communities of teachers, spoken at events around the world and worked to understand how internet changes what it means to know. His educational exploration partners have included faculty and researchers from well-known universities, and lone teachers in small town classrooms. Some of them are even still talking to him.

Dave’s keynotes in the last couple of years have centred around how coming to know is a messy, imprecise process at once intensely individual and necessarily embedded in a community – Rhizomatic Learning. You can follow him on twitter at

3 Key Points:

1. Edtech will not save us - the commonly quoted "fact" that we are preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist is fake; this has been said since 1957 but there is no evidence corroborating this.
2. We need to, consciously and overtly, build a prosocial web - what's missing from the Internet is "being nice". Target the 60% of the population that, with support, will do it (not the usual 20% keeners or the 20% naysayers). 
3. Embrace the use of complex (as opposed to simple or complicated) problems, which are not directly measurable, will lead to some failure, and can be confusing, uncertain and scary.

So What? Now What?

This was a thought-provoking talk, although as I re-read the notes I took during the keynote, I'm not sure exactly HOW we are supposed to build this "prosocial web". I guess that's one of those complex problems that Dave is encouraging us to use. 

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Organized Chaos: Code and Create in a Maker Library

Summary (taken from website): I would like to share why I started a maker space and what I have learned along the way. I will discuss the changing role of the school library and the exciting way the technicians can help drive them forward. The session will end with some hands on learning where participants can get an idea of what a typical maker period would look like.

So What? Now What?

Confession - I skipped this workshop but I had a really good reason. My dear friend, Lisa Noble, who was busy at BIT18 with several workshops, discussion groups, and booths, took precious time out of her schedule to sit with me and walk me through the steps of creating a fabric fidget maze / labyrinth. This was not initially part of her plan for her self-regulation station, but I brought my sewing machine all the way from Toronto to Niagara and we spent an hour together crafting and collaborating. I loved it! She was so encouraging and reminded me (when I sewed some of the pathways too narrow, preventing the bead from travelling through) that this was a prototype and not to worry about perfection the first time around. What a precious gift! My next step is very clear - I'm going to try and make some more of these safe fidget tools to give to other teachers, (which I already began on Saturday November 10 at my sewing class) and maybe I can even encourage some of my students to try and make some themselves!

Another piece of learning that happened because of this interaction was some exploring around cross-posting on different social media sites. It really reminded me of Media Literacy Key Concept #8, that each medium has a unique aesthetic form. The way I post on Twitter differs from Facebook and Instagram. As a result of this exploration, I de-linked my social media accounts from each other. I still post similar content to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (like my blog post notifications) but I realized that I craft the message differently based on the social media platform.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Copied the maze, compare measured to the original

Cut the cotton and plush squares

Lisa coaching me on leaving a space to flip it

Lisa pins the map to the fabric

Sewing the maze paths

Peeling off the paper guide

11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
The Embedded Librarian: Rocking your virtual Library Learning Commons in digital spaces

Summary (taken from website): How do we make students that we don’t see every day successful? Don't let physical geography prevent you from collaborating or supporting every student in your school! The library learning commons isn't just a change in furniture or a mindset. It's about creating a pervasive culture of learning and collaboration even in digital spaces. Embedding your librarian in eLearning and blended classrooms allows all staff to take advantage of digital tools to help students to become more: confident, metacognitive, independent and critical.

3 Key Points:

1. We need to create sustainable models for the Library Learning Commons - if I was to be hit by a truck tomorrow, could the LLC program and space continue without me?
2. Instead of a "growth mindset", consider Chris Hadfield's idea of "preparing for failure"; be aware that you, your staff, and your students will not "get it" the very first time
3. There is so much mental health in what school librarians do (for staff and students) - be the safe adult where they can ask questions about reading, texts, technology / if you can't be the "right person" for them at that time, direct them to someone who can be / offer hospitality like supplies, snacks (and consider how to replicate this digitally, like an "ask me" button in a Google classroom or offer to assess formative work and revision suggestions).

So What? Now What?

I love Alanna and the inclusion of the theme of motivation in her talk really resonated with me (and with my own research on readers choice programs and motivation). I know I can get overwhelmed with all the notifications with the Google Classrooms I can be asked to join, but maybe I need to ask to join some more. (Thankfully, Diana Hong has already included me in her class Google Classroom; my next step is to stop lurking and start assisting or offering.)

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Great quote on sanity!

Alanna in action!

Icebergs are important educational metaphors

Quoting key motivation research

1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
How to Motivate and Engage Gamers and Support Healthy Digital Gaming Habits

Summary (taken from website): We will start by unpacking the the Quantic Foundry Gamer Motivation Profile and looking at our gamer learners through the lense of their motivation in the games they love. Then we will examine some concrete examples of the game based learning activities that would appeal to gamers with different motivations.

Finally we will look at the research based Practical Advice for Gamers by author and game designer Jane McGonigal which will explain the science behind why games are good for us--why they make us happier, more creative, more resilient, and better able to lead others. We will build our understanding of why some games are better for us than others, and that there is too much of a good thing.

3 Key Points

1. Not all gamers are the same; they have different motivations. Understand students' gaming profiles and then appeal to what they like, using "challenge language". You can even use tasks in a non-gaming environment that might appeal to those gaming profiles.
2. There is no wrong way to be a gamer. Gaming has some great positive benefits (see Jane McGonigal's work) and sometimes when needs are not met in real life contexts, sometimes it can be found for people in games.
3. Balanced technology management is good; positive benefits are linked to between 7-21 hours per week of game play but over 40 hours a week of online gaming will replace the positive benefits with negative impacts (these are research based findings, not theories). Consider how, what, and where you play because this can affect the benefits/drawbacks.

So What? Now What?

This was the best session I attended at #BIT18. I had way more than 3 key points to include. I am proud? delighted? blessed? (pick an adjective) to consider Jen Apgar, the presenter, a friend of mine. She had so many wise and perceptive things to say! This talk makes me miss our time together as fellow GamingEdus (when our group was much more active). My next step from this talk has already been implemented. I went home and completed the gaming profile from the link in her presentation. Then I begged my son and daughter to complete their own. I'll share our profiles and ramifications of this on our dormant Family Gaming XP blog. I loved Jen's analogy of a Minecraft environment to building snow forts in the school playground (consider how to manage the commodities, resources and space, and don't dismiss student concerns with "it's just X"). I also loved how Jen included the neurodiverse in her talk (e.g. that cooperative game  play helps us to be cooperative in real life; neurodiverse individuals can often do this in games and just need reminders and scaffolding to help them transfer the skill in-person). I wonder if I can encourage the students in my board game club (or even in just the intermediate grades in general) to complete this profile (or even have it included on the TDSB Virtual Library website as another tool for students to use to determine their strengths and/or learning profile)?

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Title slide from Jen's talk (see URL for link)

Reframe - we like to knock down block towers we build, how differs?

2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Media Literacy: Past, Present, and Futures

Summary (taken from website): An engaging and informative panel discussion! We will examine the 40 year history of media literacy in Ontario in order to provoke thought and conversation on what the future of media literacy will look like. We will address digital literacy, Global Competencies, the role of ICT and more. Participants will leave with tools to enable them to address environments and media forms that may not yet exist, as we project into the future of media literacy!

3 Key Points:

1. Media literacy means agency through conscious, critical awareness.
2. Apply media literacy key concepts when teaching with technology creatively through production.
3. Anyone who uses a form of media in their classroom is a media literacy teacher.

So What? Now What?

Bias alert - I was part of this session. Our actual talk morphed a bit from what was initially proposed, but that was a good thing. We had a good talk with the small but interested and motivated audience members about news headlines about the Tony Clement sexting story, the viral image of the engagement with a substitute hand model, and other topics. We should have collected the names of the people in attendance. Our next step will be to contact at least one person present, Adam, to continue discussions of the future of media literacy in general and AML specifically.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Michelle and Carol highlighting 1 of the 8 key concepts

Overall Commentary

I am grateful that I attended #BIT18 this year, even if it meant using up all my personal days for this school year to make it possible. Thanks Michelle Solomon for letting me bunk with you (and nice to meet you, Greg!). Thanks Tim and Max King for letting me eat dinner (Tuesday) and breakfast (Wednesday) with you and answering weird questions about sights and smells. Thanks Caroline Freibauer for the conversations squeezed in at the bar or between meals. 

Other people have already blogged about BIT18. For their insights, see

Monday, November 5, 2018

4 Things I Loved-Hated This Week

This week was a challenging one at school. Some of the challenges stemmed from situations and/or lack of communication. However, some causes of grief were specific "things" that I can also adore. What are these specific things about which I have such ambivalent feelings?

1. My "wobble chairs" and bean bag chairs

Why do I sometimes love them? - Students who struggle with staying still during a lesson really find it helpful to sit and squirm on the wobbly stools that I recently bought with my book fair funds. It can also be an easy way to show students my appreciation for them and their efforts, by offering them one of these "special seats" for a short time. Flexible seating can be a positive thing.

Why do I sometimes hate them? - Students fight over them constantly. I've tried to ensure that everyone has had a turn sitting on these alternates but it's mentally tiring to continually rotate students through. I wanted to get to a stage where we've all gotten the novelty out and then these seats can be for students who really need them, but we're not there yet. One student that I thought would really benefit from using the wobbly stool ended up standing on top of it and jumping off, which meant I had to lock the stools away in my office when his class came to the library. The bean bag chair was a donation from my son, who was dismayed to see that it had paint on it and was the worse for wear. The wobble chairs cost $100 each; I plan to get more to hopefully lessen the arguments, but that's a lot of money to spend!

2. My marbles

Why do I sometimes love them? - I was delighted with how the addition of marbles inspires students to be creative in their play. (See the post a few weeks ago about how students altered their Keva Plank builds to incorporate ramps when I included a marble.) I like how versatile and fun marbles can be. I bought a little book of marble games that I haven't even cracked open yet.

Why do I sometimes hate them? - Marbles are easy to smuggle out of the library, and some of my favourite marbles (that I bought while I was visiting my sister in Calgary last March) have gone missing (and have possibly been stolen). They roll all over the place (including under shelves) and despite having a specific container to live in, marbles get left in boxes and other unsuitable places, which means students often complain there aren't enough marbles available. Then there's a student who pushes things up his nose, so now we have to worry about having things that are small (like marbles and beads) around for him to pilfer and use inappropriately. It's literally and figuratively true that there are days when I've lost my marbles.

3. Lego

Who do I sometimes love them? - This is one of the most popular items in my Library Learning Commons Makerspace. Students of all ages can build anything. I can even include it in my library and media lessons, like I did this past week when I used Lego as "loose parts" and asked students to make different kinds of emojis. Here's just four of the many examples students made.

Why do I sometimes hate them? - I allow students to save their Lego creations on the tops of our shelves, but there's a time limit. I put the builds back after a week or two, and the creators are often irate that I've demolished the fruits of their labour, even though I've warned them that we can't preserve them forever and that we can take photos if they want. I find Lego pieces EVERYWHERE in the library, despite my best efforts to keep things tidy and remind students to clean up. With my emoji lesson, I received push back from students who wanted to stack and build what they wanted and not attempt the task at hand.

4. Halloween

Why do I sometimes love it? - As Doug Peterson has noted quite accurately, I adore costumes. I like making costumes, buying costumes and dressing up in costumes. It's fun and creative and playful. I love seeing other people's costumes too. It's a great holiday for taking photos. Plus there's the candy and the chance to see your neighbours as they bring around their children from house to house trick-or-treating.

Why do I sometimes hate it? - Aviva Dunsiger wrote a great blog post about how dys-regulating Halloween can be for some students (and adults). (This isn't her first post on the topic. Check this one out from the self-professed "Halloween Humbug".) Students can be wired and the routine is messed up. Emotions can run high, for students who get afraid of the scary imagery, or students who don't celebrate and feel excluded, or for students who are overly excited about the costumes or the excessive amounts of candy. We tried something new at our school this year, to try and combat the chaos. I'm not sure how successful it was; I really hope we take the opportunity at some point to analyze and discuss the change.

I don't really have any final thoughts on these four items that inspire such mixed emotions. There are positive parts to them, which is why I still continue to keep the Lego, marbles, and flexible seating around. And who knows - maybe "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and my upcoming two days at the ECOO BIT18 conference may rejuvenate me in unexpected ways.