Monday, June 29, 2015

Celebrating the End, the Accomplishments

The last week of school is traditionally filled with lots of parties. This was true at my own school, although we still had lessons and activities interspersed with the festivities. Last Tuesday was Grade 8 Graduation, and last Wednesday I hosted both the Library Helper Appreciation Lunch and the Student Council Pot-Luck Celebration.

Special events disrupt the regular routine and I realize that it throws off some students who thrive on predictable schedules. However, I felt it was important to have some sort of ceremony for certain groups, for several reasons.

A) For some, it's the end of an era

For many of our Grade 8 students, the only school they've ever attended was ours. That's ten years of classes and teachers. Bonds are formed and it's important to acknowledge all the growth that's occurred. For the last week of school, I made a point of bringing in my personal school scrapbooks and allowing the graduates to come during recess to peruse the pictures and reminisce. (Monday was their earliest years, Tuesday was Grades 1-3, Wednesday was Grades 4-6, and Thursday was their intermediate division time.) It was nice to see so many students drop in and exclaim over past events and fellow students.

B) Good work deserves recognition

The Student Council worked very hard this year to organized Spirit Days, Candygram fundraisers, and other various initiatives. Sometimes, hard work and effort goes unnoticed. I couldn't have that happen for this great group of kids that I've written about in the past. The council members designed iron-on badges and after our party (which consisted of a pot-luck snack-fest and spirited game of "Ghost in the Graveyard"), they brought their school t-shirts to add this badge of honour to their clothes, to commemorate all the great things they were part of this year. Half of the council's members won't be at our school next year, and I hope that next year's group will be just as enthusiastic as this one.

C) It's important to have fun

Not all my clubs are glamorous. Library helpers face a never-ending pile of books to shelve, and re-shelve, and shelves to organize and tidy repeatedly. However, the benefits hopefully outweigh the drudgery. Every year, we have an end-of-the-year party, co-planned with the Library Helper Student Administration. This year, I catered their lunch with lo mein and then we played Sticker Tag in the library. The graduating Library Helpers received a gift card, and it looks like everyone had a great time. (I was covered with 54 stickers by the end of the match, so part of the joy involved covering their teacher with stickers!) Many helpers will continue to be a part of the Library Club because they like to help AND they have fond memories of the fun we had at events like this. 

Thanks to all the students, staff, and volunteers that made the 2014-15 school year a memorable one for me. Enjoy your summer and I'll continue to blog over the summer, reflecting on my summer school teaching experience and musing on my learning from this past year.

Monday, June 22, 2015

10 Tips for Incorporating Inside Out In Class

Last week was a busy one, with tons of possibilities for blogging.

Tuesday, June 16 was our So You Think You Can Dance extravaganza at school.

Wednesday, June 17 was the TDSB Leadership Appreciation event at Spirales.

Thursday, June 18 was the Agnes Macphail P.S. Volunteer Tea celebration.

I chose, however, to write about the one that happened last. On Friday, June 19, the primary division students and I used their proceeds from their epic restaurant project to go see the movie Inside Out. This was a fantastic movie. I laughed and cried. (I also spent the last half of the movie with a Grade 1 cuddled in my lap, but that's another story.) The great thing is that the film inspired me for so many activities and follow-ups we can do in class. Here are just ten possible topics for investigation. We only have a week left of school, so unfortunately, I won't be trying all ten, but this is just off  the top of my head. (Spoilers ahead, so read with caution!)

1. What are your core memories?

In the film, certain memories or moments are extra-special. Their orbs glow extra bright and are stored in a special container. These become "core memories" and are what help shape the individual's personality. They also have certain colours (or, as we see at the end, colour blends) to indicate the primary emotion associated with that memory. Give students 3 circles on a paper (about the size of a fist) and have them consider what significant events might make up their core memories. Draw a scene from that core memory in your circle. Then decide what colour best represents that memory. (In the film, the main emotions and colours are joy = yellow, sadness = blue, anger = red, fear = purple, and disgust = green.)

2. Anticipation / Reaction guide

Before seeing the film, provide students with a list of assertions with an agree/disagree chart in the middle. Statements like:
- Everyone has emotions
- Being sad is not healthy
- Emotions impact our actions
- Feelings about an event can change with time
- Memories are permanent
would get the students to think about some of the ideas inherent in the movie. The same survey can be completed after watching the movie and discussed.

3. Truth or fiction in Volcano Formation

The short Pixar film that plays before Inside Out is called Lava. Students can recall all the different things that volcanoes are shown to do in the film and then do some research to discover how true the depictions might be.

4. Comparing Media Texts about the Movie

On the trip, my students collected artifacts related to the movie: a free newspaper with a movie review of the film, a movie magazine at the theatre profiling the film, and even a Disney store display sign promoting the film. Examine these different media texts. Who is the audience? What is the purpose? How are they similar or different? Can you write a movie review for Inside Out? What would it include? How do you discuss the film without spoilers? Here's an example of a movie review:  

5. Comparing Venues & Calculating Costs

My students created a restaurant and earned money. The profits from their restaurant paid for their trip. One activity we actually did prior to our trip was to create huge Venn diagrams and compare real-life movie theatres and real-life restaurants. How do their purpose, audience, and messages differ? What's the same? I also realized that I was too generous with allowing adult chaperons and I think I went over budget - maybe I should have a Math Congress to determine how many adults I should have had on the trip.

6. Story in Song

Lava is a 7 minute story told completely in song. How effective is the story telling through song? Why is the choice of instrument, words, and singers so important to the tale? Can the students create a musical version of a legend? Could they animate it? Here's a link to an article about the making of the short: 

7. Growing Up In Your Brain

Riley is the "main character" in Inside Out. (Note: this is an arguable point, since it's actually Riley's emotions that are the bulk of the movie's plot.) She is 11 years old. Often, when we talk about growing up, we focus on what happens to our physical bodies. The film shows how Riley's mind "grows up" - and that's not even counting that big "PUBERTY" button sitting on the new revised console that the emotions are tempted to push. Draw or describe what a baby's brain might look like, a child, a teenager, and an adult. What personality islands might stay the same? Which ones might disintegrate? Here's an article asking psychologists about their opinion of the movie:

8. Long Term Memory, Abstraction & Other Complicated Ideas

Why do we forget things? How do we understand concepts like loneliness? Why did the movie select those five emotions to personify? The movie decides to depict these things in very clear visual ways, that are actually based on how the brain works. Have students develop alternate metaphors to the ones provided in the film (e.g. instead of "train of thought" or globes being pushed up through tubes into your conscious thoughts, remembering is like ...) The creators of the movie consulted with emotional researcher Dr. Paul Eckman - you can read briefly about the inspiration here. Do you agree with the emotions represented? Who got left out that should be there? Can anyone be replaced? What might happen if you lost Fear, or Disgust? 

9. Who's in your driver's seat?

My daughter noticed this when we discussed the movie afterwards. The emotion that is in charge of Riley's "control panel" is Joy. When you get a glimpse into the mind-space of her parents, you may notice that the chief emotion handling the controls for Riley's mom is Sadness, and for her dad, Anger is the driving force. What emotion is your driving force? Provide some scenarios. What would the driving emotions in your head be saying or thinking?

10. Stuck in your head

A gum commercial is a memory that is inexplicably "stuck" in Riley's head and pops in at odd moments. According to the film, it's due to maintenance workers having fun. I know I've had the chorus to Lava playing in my head all weekend ("I have a dream / I hope it comes true / That you'll be with me / And I'll be with you ..."). What causes memories or moments to be "sticky" like this? Do we have similar "sticky" memories? What moments from this school year might prove to be sticky?

There are so many more that are possible - I didn't even touch on the part involving "emotional manipulation" or "imaginary friends" - but I hope you'll agree that this film has great possibilities for teaching and learning in the classroom. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Newfoundland - The Best Part of the Worst Part

I have a bucket list, albeit a small one. One of my goals before I die is to visit every province in Canada. Much of my travelling success so far has been due to invitations to present at various conferences. I live in Ontario, so that part was easy; annual OLA (Ontario Library Association)  and ECOO (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) conferences encourage me to explore my own province more thoroughly. In 2008 I went to British Columbia for CLA (Canadian Library Association). Although I had been before, Quebec was my conference destination in 2009 due to CLA. In 2010, I visited New Brunswick as part of APLA (Atlantic Provincial Library Association) and Alberta for TMC (Treasure Mountain Canada). Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were possible thanks to CLA in 2011. Manitoba, courtesy of MLA (Manitoba Library Association), was checked off my list in 2012. If you are keeping track, that leaves just two more provinces, and last week I was able to fulfill another dream. My dear friend and colleague Denise Colby and I went to St. John's Newfoundland for this year's APLA conference. 

You can read more about the learning from the actual conference on another blog/website I contribute to: The piece I want to reflect on here relates to my habit of participating in my host city's local attractions. I have a teacher I work with at school who is from Newfoundland and she encouraged me to get "screeched in", visit Signal Hill, and go whale watching. We did all of this, and more. We walked to the fishing village of Quidi Vidi, visited The Rooms, The Commissariat, and The Vaults, and still made time to present on Minecraft to a supportive crowd at the conference and network with attendees afterwards. 

I had a fantastic time with all of these activities, save for one. Denise and I went whale watching on a tiny boat with five other people in the early evening of Friday, June 12. I've never been on a real boat before, unless you count the ferry that shuttles Torontonians from the mainland to Centre Island. The North Atlantic Ocean was rough, and the air was cold. I sat glued to my seat with a hand constantly on the rail. About thirty minutes or so after we first set out, I went inside briefly to try and warm up and suddenly got violently sea sick. Thank heavens the boat had two washrooms. I have never vomited so hard or frequently in my life. I only had some apple cider in my gullet, which exited much more quickly than it entered. Stomach acid and bile followed, and still my insides churned. I puked until there was nothing left to puke, and then I puked some more. I was stuck on the tiny bathroom floor, dry heaving, hugging the tiny toilet and waiting for the internal and external upheaval to calm down. I spent more than half of the two-and-a-half hour trip huddled in the lavatory. Denise and I had planned on attending a "kitchen party" at Quidi Vidi after the whale watching, but I was so physically decimated after having my insides try to escape via my throat that we took a cab back to our dorm rooms at Memorial University and called it an early night.

Surprisingly, I don't regret the adventure that led to the barfing to end all barfs. What good could possibly come out of getting so sick? Well, for one, we actually got to see some whales. Not only did we spot a mother and her calf, we got photographic proof! Trevor and Jason, our captain and crew, said that they cannot guarantee that visitors will see any whales, as sightings are beyond their control. We were fortunate to see them, especially so early into our voyage. I saw them before I spent the rest of the trip in the loo. Secondly, I recovered from my gastronomical distress and it became an entertaining story to share. Third, I think I appreciated feeling well after feeling so miserable. All in all, I wouldn't change anything about the trip. Thank you APLA for giving me a reason to explore my country and pursue professional development simultaneously. Thank you Denise, for being an amazing travel companion, articulate presenter, efficient nurse, map-reader, and friend. Thank you Beckie Macdonald (from OLA) for getting us screeched in. And most of all, thank you Newfoundland for making my experience so memorable. 

Can you see the two spouts?

Trust me, that thing in the water is a fin.
This is Denise, who didn't upchuck

Monday, June 8, 2015

Unexpected Answers

This weekend (including Friday June 5, 2015, a Professional Activity Day) was devoted to Assessment and Evaluation. All that marking that I procrastinate on had to be addressed without delay. One of my big evaluation experiments this year was using Google Forms to collect data on the epic Restaurant Project. The wonderful and wise Neil Andersen helped me polish my questions and Francis Ngo provided much-needed technical assistance. I took a gamble on the last two questions of the survey, which students could choose to do online, in their notebooks, or as an interview. The questions were: What did you learn about media from doing this project? / What did you learn about yourself from doing this project? These were pretty open-ended and I didn't know what to expect. I wanted to share some of the answers. (I did not correct any spelling or grammatical errors.)

our uniform and the T-shirts were media and also the food.

That I can be a good waiter and it was very fun.

people like food because they liked our dessert

I like money you can earn money

I learned how to talk there orders .

That if you make a restaurant, you get hard work.

I found out when my mom was doing the restaurant, she burned her hand so parents might burn their hands too.

I can cook even i am a kid

I learned that a restaurant needs lots of patience.

That I'm a bit good at working with a partner doing the work.

i learn being greeter is not easy

media is evreywer

a restaurant is a big job

I learned about that restaurants always need much food

I like to work in a restaurant. I'm good at helping peoples that need help.

to not be afraid when you have to do something

Out side restaurant are different from our restaurant

I am good at making oatmeal cookies.

Our Grade 3 restaurant served spaghetti and meatballs

Our final restaurant from March 31 had active cooks

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dealing with Stress - A Finished Yearbook Helps

When I'm unsure about my topic for my weekly post, I turn to my family. My blog posts are usually reflections on school situations from the prior week and when I came to ask them, both my son and daughter immediately said, "Yearbook. You need to write something about making the yearbook."

I submitted the yearbook to the board printers on Friday May 29, and previously had spent all my May weekends and all my weekday evenings during that final week working incessantly on the publication. To paraphrase Ashley Spires' great book, The Most Magnificent Thing, I planned, I pondered, and panicked. I counted, composed, and collected. I crafted lists, created deadlines, and corralled photographers for last-minute pictures. I was seriously stressed out! My school yearbook (48 pages, full-colour, representative of the whole student body) is created mostly by me and by my loyal-beyond-all-measure former student, Andrew, who is now attending university at McGill in Montreal. He and I used Twitter and Dropbox to share Photoshop files and communicate about what needed to be done.

"Why not reduce your stress by sharing the workload?", you may ask. "Why not involve the kids more in the process?"
 In the past, we used to have students design some of the yearbook pages, but my students are so involved in so many activities that I found it more stressful to have them involved. They didn't seem to understand the larger ramifications of missing deadlines and why they couldn't just ask for an extension. As it was, I had a small team of student artists design the cover and the Photography Club handle the Spirit Days and Clubs/Teams photos for this year's yearbook. It was only due to some terrible nagging and urgent pleading that I was able to have enough photographs to use. I was particularly incensed when I learned that one student photographer had taken the Ball Hockey Tournament team photos months in advanced, but never sent them or informed me that they were completed earlier. Communicating with me this rather important fact would have made me less worried.

A sneak peek at the front cover, minus titles.

How did I deal with the yearbook stress? Two things: Andrew and lists. Andrew was absolutely incredible. When I wrote to him expressing doubt that we'd make the May 29 deadline, he reassured me that it was possible. He was right. I'd create what I thought was a good page, and he'd edit it and make it a hundred times better. Despite being in a different city and province, AND despite taking a compressed, university-level linear algebra course at the same time, Andrew worked just as hard, if not harder, than I did creating this visual masterpiece. He gave me advice. He taught me how to do things, and retaught them when the lesson didn't stick. He transformed all the files from Photoshop to PDF. All the teachers at school that know Andrew ask me what I'll do when he decides to move on and not help with yearbook. After all, they warned me last year that his graduation from high school was the end of his assistance, yet this year, he was still available for consultation and template creation. Thanks to him, I wasn't alone. Creating lists also helped me cope with what-felt-like-overwhelming duties. Knowing what had to be done and checking them off as I completed each page or club felt so rewarding.
Now that the yearbook is finished, I feel an immense sense of relief and accomplishment. Even though I still have to do final marks for report cards, a Minecraft presentation for the Atlantic Provincial Library Association conference, a press release and certificates for the Red Maple Marketing Campaign, and the Volunteer Tea invitations and book plates, it doesn't seem as impossible now that the yearbook is done and out of the way.

I realize that I'm not the only one facing stress as a result of looming deadlines. My Grade 9 daughter has four exams, three ISUs, and two major projects to submit between now and the end of school. When I asked her how she deals with her stress, she stated that she tries to build in break times. She will work for 45 minutes on school assignments and then take 15 minutes to create some distance, either by checking her Deviant Art account or doing something completely different. Here's hoping that everyone has strategies or outlets for dealing with the stressful last days of school.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Effective Promotion and Learning by Students from Students

Last week, I was away at two separate events. At first glance, they seem very different. The Taking IT Global Social Innovation Student Symposium was held at the Ontario Science Centre on Thursday, May 21. The TDSB East Region Red Maple Marketing Campaign and Celebration invaded the Malvern Branch of the Toronto Public Library on Friday, May 22. (I've written about this event multiple times on my blog.) However, both activities involved using social media and technology for a specific purpose and allowing student voice and choice to shine through authentic projects that go beyond generating marks for the report card. I was really impressed with the effort made by the many schools and classes involved. Students are learning how to use the tools they consider a normal part of the technological landscape as more than just entertaining distractions. They promote their causes (in the case of the Taking IT Global projects) or advertise their Kid Can Lit selections using many different venues - I saw examples over the past two days from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Goodreads, independent websites, YouTube, and more.

The most effective promotions did not neglect the "people factor" and used low-tech methods in addition to engage their audiences. Mr. Roberts' Grade 7-8 students made a huge paper map and encouraged visitors to place a star where they live in Toronto, to see that the issue of safe oil transportation is not just important to the Goldhawk Community, where they live, but to the majority of Torontonians, due to the intricate network of railways, pipelines, and waterways criss-crossing the city. We even had a gentleman visit the booth who said that the Line 9 pipeline travels through his neighbourhood - all the way in New Brunswick.

The winner of the Red Maple Marketing Campaign this year, the group from Milliken P.S. that were responsible for the book The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, also used a great mix of low-tech and high-tech means to get their message across. Their poster artwork was eye-catching, and their bookmarks, Photo Booth stand, and treats all supported the theme of the book and their intent to get as many people interested in reading it as possible.

The second similarity between the events - and the part that delighted me the most - was how the learning was led by the students. I got a bit teary-eyed when I watched a team of students enthusiastically explain their call to action to another student. As I chatted with the teacher, who was filming from a short distance away, so to allow her students the chance to do all the talking themselves, she shared that this was a Home School (aka Special Education) class and that this project turned them into outgoing leaders and agents of change. They weren't talking because their teacher forced them; they were sharing what they knew because they were passionate and knowledgeable about the issue. I loved how students would approach me at the Student Symposium, introduce themselves, and ask me to accompany them back to their display area so they could get the opportunity to tell me about their projects. I took several photos of their projects but since I don't have written permission to share their faces, I won't share them here. The excitement they had for their work was genuine.

This was equally as true at the Red Maple Marketing Campaign. Last year, our advertising executives praised the work of the winning group (Agnes Macphail's Loki's Wolves team) for their innovative use of social media. This year, almost every group had some sort of social media presence as part of their projects. This year's judges, the wonderful Sydney, Samantha, and Eryn from Manifest Communications, stayed extra late to provide written feedback specific to every team, as well as to include overall observations applicable to all groups. Suggestions included audience engagement, exciting book summaries, and dynamic presenters that "sell" during their allotted presentation times as well as during less formal, booth visit times. Even before the trio of judges gave these ideas, I heard students commenting on the other projects, saying "we should have a Photo Booth next year" or "that was a good idea to give paper copies of the Twitter feeds to the judges".

In fact, it took a great deal of effort to pry the students away from each others' tables to get them ready for our author visit. It was the outstanding, charismatic and wise Richard Scrimger, (who enjoyed checking out the student projects just as much as the students did) and he kept the audience completely enthralled.

Once again, it was a wonderful couple of days. At the Taking IT Global event, I was not as involved in the preparation (the key teacher from our school was away with the Grade 8s for their graduation trip) but I congratulate everyone involved with the project. As for the Red Maple Marketing event, I have to publicly thank:

  • Jennifer, Samantha, and Alison from Milliken P.S., David Lewis P.S., and Brookside P.S., for participating and helping to plan
  • Analisa from the Toronto Public Library for hosting the space and paying the majority of the author's bill
  • Samantha, Sydney, and Eryn from Manifest Communications, for judging our student projects
  • Richard, for being a fantastic speaker
  • all the students who worked so hard on their book promotions

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear Caroline, Dear Sigmund

Last week, the annual Forest of Reading Festival of Trees celebrated at Harbourfront in Toronto. My school was there, as usual, enjoying the events and hobnobbing with awesome authors. During the Red Maple ceremony, nominated author Caroline Pignat told the crowd to write to their favourite authors, to let them know how their books made an impact. I think this is just as important for adult readers to do, although I suspect we do it less often than our younger counterparts. I used to do it a lot when I first started writing my blog years and years ago. It's time for another fan-girl moment, and so for today's post, I'll write two public letters to two authors.

The 2015 Red Maple Awards Ceremony

Dear Caroline Pignat,

You probably won't remember me, although you recently made my day by following me on Twitter. Way back in 2009, I was your "caretaker" at the Festival of Trees when your book, Egghead, was a Red Maple nominee. It is oddly comforting to discover that an author can be just as delightful and enjoyable company as the words he or she produces, and I found that to be true in your case when we first met. However, I wanted to write you and thank you, not for that past experience, but for your most recent book, Unspeakable. This book took me in directions I never expected. When I first started reading it, I thought, "Okay, this is just like the movie Titanic ... star-crossed lovers, tragic shipwreck, yadda yadda." Despite my cynicism that I'd "seen this before", I was still engaged by the description of life aboard a cruise ship. Just when I thought the story was done, it propelled me into a completely different tangent. Ellie's sullen disposition made so much more sense - she was not just a rich brat, but a woman with terrible losses and great determination. Jim wasn't just a handsome, brooding, YA hero - he wrestled with personal demons that stretched beyond the shipwreck. Ellie's relationship with the journalist, Wyatt Steele, kept me guessing, but I was so happy to see that in the end, women and men can be just friends. It was a sweet victory to see how her aunt's writing was more valuable and powerful than even her land and manor, and that it benefited Ellie and Wyatt - life doesn't always reward the deserving and punish the wrongdoers, but it felt so satisfying to see it happen in the final pages of the novel. I know that my students enjoyed the book just as much as I did, so thank you very much for writing such an engaging story.


Diana Maliszewski

Kevin Sylvester MCd this year's Red Maple ceremony

Dear Sigmund Brouwer,

You've written a lot of books. As a teacher-librarian, I've read a lot of books. There are only a few where they are so good that I have to put them down. That sentence may not make a lot of sense. What I mean is that there are times where the plot is so intense, that I'm afraid to see what happens next and I have to stop reading to calm myself down and get ready for the next chapter. That's what happened to me when I read your recent novel, Dead Man's Switch. The concept had me thinking and predicting, and like King, your protagonist, I kept my fingers crossed that good would prevail, despite the incredible odds against it all working out. I really was torn - should King trust and believe his best friend or his father? The action was non-stop and I admired how clever his computer-savvy friend was to plant so many clues. The postscript with all the possibilities was a creepy counterpoint to the fiction. Thank you so much for writing a book that, not only pre-teens and teens devoured, but the educators that work with those pre-teens and teens can enjoy too.

Yours truly,

Diana Maliszewski